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Wed 17 November 2004

Don't hand over water-charging decisions to London - UNISON call

UNISON, Scotland's utilities union, has circulated all Scotland's MSP's urging them not to hand over the final appeal on increases in water charges to the Competition Commission, a London-based quango.

The proposals are contained within the Water Services (Scotland) Bill that will be debated by the Scottish Parliament today (Wednesday).

Dave Watson, UNISON's Scottish Organiser for Utilities said, "The Executive wants to wash its hands of this final decision and to pass the buck to a London quango that mainly deals with private companies. This is a loss of democratic accountability. There is no evidence that the Competition Commission will be sympathetic or even understand either our separate Scottish setup, or the public service nature of our water industry."

UNISON, Scotland's largest water union, also points out that the Bill seeks to establish a regulatory and licensing regime that applies to privatised utilities, and that the Environment Committee has expressed widespread concern over the impact of this on important Scottish policy like investment, charges, social inclusion, economic competition, and environmental sustainability.

Dave Watson said: "These two approaches are simply incompatible. What the Executive must do is provide a statutory framework for a fully public water industry."

The union does however, welcome some other aspects of the Bill, such as the creation of a broader-based commission and welcomes the Environment Committee's support for prohibiting competition in the domestic sector, and its criticisms of the financial memorandum.

Dave Watson would like to go further. "Many of the licensing difficulties highlighted by the Committee report would disappear if non-household competition were also prohibited." He said. "The competition and associated business separation is an unnecessary and costly distraction from Scottish Water's key objectives."


[Notes to the Editor: A UNISON briefing paper on the effect of this change is available from the contacts below. See also the MSP Briefing]

For Further Information Please Contact: Dave Watson (Scottish Organiser - Utilities) 0845 355 0845(o) 07787 558 410(m) Chris Bartter (Communications Officer) 0870 7777006(o) 07715 583 729(m)