We Own It

Public services for
people not profit


Photo of washing hands under tap

71% of the British public want water to be in public ownership, according to the latest poll.

In England and Wales, every day 3.4 billion litres of water leaks from the system, almost a quarter of the entire supply. Yet shareholders were paid £1.5 billion in 2010-11 (Ofwat data obtained by the Guardian). 

A Corporate Watch study has found:

  • People are paying £2 billion more a year – or around £80 per household - than they would be if the water and sewerage supply was publicly financed.

  • Almost one third of the money spent on water bills goes to banks and investors as interest and dividends.

  • Six companies are avoiding millions in tax by routing profits through tax havens, using a regulatory loophole the government has chosen to keep open.

  • The CEOs of the 19 water companies were paid almost £10 million in salaries and other bonuses in 2012.

A new report shows clearly how  some water companies (such as Thames Water) are facing financial difficulty,  because they use debt  to finance themselves in a way that minimises corporation tax and maximises the return to shareholders. ('Money down the drain: Getting a better deal for consumers from the water industry', Centre Forum, July 2013.)  

Research shows that water privatisation is not more efficient than public provision, and it tends to mean higher prices for consumers and/or underinvestment. 'The evidence from France and England further supports the presumption that private companies can and will find ways of driving up prices, and/or underinvesting, to obtain monopoly profits, including corruption.' ('Water Privatisation', Public Services International Research Unit, April 2008.)

What's the alternative?

Scottish Water is a publicly owned company providing water in Scotland. Since 2002, the company has invested £5.5 billion and improved nearly 5000 miles of water pipes. Over the last 9 years, leakage has been reduced by over 44%. This compares to a 5% reduction in leaks in England and Wales over the past 13 years. The average household charge was the lowest in the UK in 2012/13 at £324 or less than £1 a day. This is £52 less than the average in England and Wales and has remained the same for the fourth year running. (Read more about Scottish Water.)

In Wales, much of the country's water is provided by a not-for-profit company, Glas Cymru/Welsh Water. The company has invested £3 billion since 2001, along with returning £150 million to customers through customer dividends, and providing £10 million in support for disadvantaged customers. Bills are lower in real terms than they were in 2000, partly due to reduced costs and improved efficiency. (Read more about Glas Cymru/Welsh Water.)

What you can do

Sign the petition to end the great water rip-off.


'Paris's return to public water supplies makes waves beyond France' (Reuters, July 2014)

'Greek top court blocks Athens Water privatisation' (Reuters, May 2014)

'UK is out of step with the rest of the world on access to water' (The Conversation, March 2014)

Photo licensed under Creative Commons licensing, thanks to LuluP.