Water industry says public ownership is no longer popular - 3 reasons not to trust them

Water splash

19 April 2018

Shocker! New poll reported in the Daily Mail and Politics Home reports that public support for bringing water into public ownership has halved. People – apparently – have seen the error of their ways. They don’t, after all, want a government to bring water into public hands.
Great headline, but let’s dig a bit deeper. When we do, we’ll see that these figures aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. 
Here’s why we can’t trust this polling.

1) This polling is funded by the water industry

The polling, carried out by ComRes, was funded by Anglian Water, Severn Trent, South West Water and United Utilities. 
The FT recently reported that Anglian Water and United Utilities have been slashing pensions while returning lucrative benefits to shareholders and executives. Severn Trent has today been fined £350,000 after its pollution killed 30,000 fish. Meanwhile, a recent Corporate Watch study on South West Water found that it pays out more to its owners and financiers than it spends on investment in water and sewerage. 
You can see more of the ways these companies have failed the public on our website, while raking in the profits. It's clear that they benefit directly from privatisation, and don't want to lose out through public ownership.

2) The polling confuses ongoing spending commitments with smart public investment

The polling describes nationalisation as public spending, and then asks people to choose between spending money on the NHS, the police, schools and so on – vs bringing water into public ownership. But this completely misses the point. 
Bringing water into public ownership is not an ongoing spending commitment. It’s a wise investment that will bring in £2.3 billion in savings every year for the public purse. It would pay for itself within about 10 years. So it’s a great deal for the public purse and for everyone who uses water (that’s everyone).

3) The polling is based on false information about the cost of buying back the water companies

The polling refers to the Social Market Foundation report which claims that renationalisation would cost £90 billion. This report was itself funded by Anglian Water, Severn Trent, South West Water and United Utilities!
And its claim is simply not true. Parliament can decide how much to compensate shareholders. We can compensate shareholders for the money they’ve actually invested in the industry, not for full market value. So that would cost us around £18 billion, not £90 billion. Then we would SAVE money, year after year, because we wouldn’t be paying out dividends to shareholders, and investment in infrastructure would be better value because of the lower cost of capital.
As Professor Dieter Helm points out ‘The actual nationalisation process is relatively straightforward…The SMF seems to count investment as a public expenditure, whilst neglecting to count revenue as public income’. He says its analysis is ‘nonsense’ and that the number of £90 billion should not be taken seriously.
Yet it’s this £90 billion figure that the polling mentions, contrasting it with a lower number of £18 billion dividends given to shareholders in the last decade, before asking people for their views on public ownership.
It's our water, and we'll be taking it back
The SMF report isn't valid, so the polling isn't valid. So we'll stick with the polling from the Legatum Institute which says that 83% of us want public ownership of water.
Water privatisation is an 'organised rip-off' according to the FT. And we’ll be taking back OUR water as soon as we can.

Photo credit: Balaji Chandran

Water splash

Do you believe in public services for people not profit?

Win campaigns for public ownership by subscribing to our mailing list! We'll hold your data in accordance with our privacy policy and send you carefully chosen information about current and future campaigns, projects and appeals. You can unsubscribe at any time.


Anne Turner replied on Permalink

f***ing right!!

Chris Stewart replied on Permalink

Of course water needs to be nationally owned. Selling it off was a national disgrace. Water is not a lifestyle choice it's a necessity and the country should take back control.

Gordon Sim replied on Permalink

The reason they got away with privatisation is:- Voter apathy, Voter Gullibility and the politicians do not want to be held to account, so get it off the books. The sooner everyone starts to wake up and understand whats going on the better !. BUT thats hope for you.

Anthony Handyman. replied on Permalink

Water, Energy, and Railways should all be brought back into public ownership as soon as possible.

Tim Cribb replied on Permalink

Unavoidable utilities, such as roads, air, water, are public necessities and should not be made into commodities for private profit.

Patrick Luis replied on Permalink


Richard Dennis replied on Permalink

The truth is out with higher prices and worse services as we saw in the winter with water being cut off and nurseries and residents having to queue for bottles.

Electricity and gas prices rises taking up more of the weekly budget while wages are stagnant since the financial crash.

The telephone firms have been widely criticised for their poor service and the private postal firms cannot match the reach of the Post Office.

So there you are.

Carolyn Hayman replied on Permalink

And Legatum are not known for espousing socialist ideas..

Add new comment