WATER SERVICES BILL CONSULTATION
Mutual Scottish Water?
On Thursday 19 June 2003 the Scottish Tories
are initiating a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the
Scottish water industry calling for the mutualisation of
The coalition agreement Partnership for a
Better Scotland commits the Scottish Executive to "retain
Scottish Water in public ownership and will support it with
the resources necessary to invest in our public water and
sewerage services so that they meet health standards".
UNISON supports this commitment that reflects
the Scottish peoples rejection of profit taking from an
essential public service. Mutualisation for the capital
intensive Scottish water and sewage industry is simply a
smokescreen for privatisation. The mutual body would in
effect be owned by the financial institutions that provided
(the more expensive) capital funds.
To minimise financial risk they would insist
that all services be provided by private contractors as
happens in Welsh Water, the model for the Tory proposal.
Therefore the so-called mutual option is in reality a token
representation for customers on a board overseeing a wholly
privatised Scottish Water.
In addition to the disruption a second reorganisation
would cause, bills would rise to pay for the profits of
the English water companies who would provide the services
and the more expensive private sector borrowing. The usual
right wing commentators riding on the publicity generated
by rising bills have made the calls for water privatisation.
Many of the claims are absurd, based on inaccurate
data laced with their own ideological views. Scottish Water
does have a number of problems including: " Unrealistic
efficiency targets both in the scale of the cuts they impose
and the speed in which they are to be achieved. Resulting
in massive job losses which will undermine safety and customer
Scottish Water is being given four years to
make structural changes that took twelve years in England.
- Bills that are rising faster than necessary due to
the structure of water charges proposed by the Water Industry
Commissioner (WIC) including:
- Harmonisation introduced in one year instead of phasing
the changes over a number of years.
- Increasing the fixed charge element again without sufficient
phasing. " The surface water drainage water charge.
- Bills that will continue to rise after 2006 because
the WIC insists on funding investment from customer charges.
Sensible organisations spread long term investment costs.
- Unfair (and often inaccurate) comparisons with England.
Scotland has an entirely different water and sewage infrastructure.
In particular, large numbers of small water treatment
plant, more sewers closer to properties and of course
a massive coastline.
The English industry has also benefited from £50bn
of investment over the past 13 years compared with £1bn
in Scotland. Bills in England throughout the 90's were much
higher in England to finance this investment even though
they had the benefit of debt write off at privatisation.
Put simply, Scotland's crumbling water and sewage infrastructure
needs massive investment and that is expensive. Costs that
either have to be met by charges or by the general taxpayer
at the expense of other public services.
There are serious problems with the current regulatory
regime that need to be tackled. However, there are no easy
fixes and mutualisation/privatisation is not the solution.
For further details contact:
UNISON Scottish Organiser (Utilities)
UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel:
0845 355 0845