Services Bill MSP Briefing
On Wednesday 17 November 2004
Parliament will debate the Stage 1 report on the Water Services
etc (Scotland) Bill. UNISON is the largest trade union in the
Scottish water industry. UNISON welcomes many aspects of this
Bill but has serious reservations over certain provisions.
Water Industry Commission
UNISON welcomes the replacement of the single
regulator by a broader based Commission and agrees with the Environment
Committee that five members are more appropriate. A strengthening
of the Customer Consultation Panels is also welcome if it is properly
The narrow 'expert' led membership of the Commission
would be appropriate if it was only concerned with economic factors.
However, in a public service they have to take account of the
public policy framework set by Ministers. As Ministers are proposing
to hand the final appeal over to another economic London based
quango there is a case for a wider membership base in the Commission.
Provision of Water and Sewerage Services
UNISON supports a statutory framework for competition
and the Committee's report misunderstands the STUC evidence on
this point. The statutory framework should in our view enshrine
the exclusion of competition as provided for in Schedule 3 of
the Competition Act - not the partial privatisation of Scotland's
UNISON welcomes the Committee's support for prohibiting
common carriage and competition in the domestic sector. In evidence
the water industry unions have highlighted the additional costs
and negative impact on customers and the industry of non-household
competition. In essence this competition and associated business
separation is an unnecessary and costly distraction from Scottish
Water's key objectives.
We welcome the Committee's position on the vital
importance of accurately apportioning costs and agree with the
criticisms of the financial memorandum and RIA. However, it would
not be an issue if Parliament rejects this privatising measure
in its entirety.
The many licensing difficulties highlighted by
the Committee would again disappear if non-household competition
were prohibited. On the right of appeal to the Competition Commission,
UNISON remains of the view that this is an abrogation of ministerial
responsibility and a loss of democratic accountability. For Parliament
to hand over the final decision on charges for a public service
to a London based quango must be wrong in principle and in practice.
Many of the concerns expressed in the Stage 1
report highlight the essential problem with the structures proposed
in the Bill. The Committee rightly reflects widespread concern
over investment, charges, social inclusion, economic competitiveness
and environmental sustainability. These are all vital public policy
issues for Parliament. However, the Bill broadly seeks to establish
a regulatory and licensing regime that applies to privatised utilities.
The two approaches are simply incompatible. We should focus on
providing a statutory framework for a fully public water industry.
Executive | Scottish Parliament | Briefings Home