This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the
consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive Environment
Group on Private Water Supply Regulation.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over
140,000 members working in the public sector. As the largest
trade union in the Scottish water industry, UNISON members
are both providers and users of water in Scotland. UNISON
welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's
consultative paper on the proposals for the regulation of
private water supply. This response needs to be seen in
the context of our previous submissions to recent Scottish
Executive consultations on the water industry.
We welcome the proposals to regulate private water. UNISON
believes that the provision of healthy and safe water to
all people of Scotland is crucial to the wider public health
and social inclusion agenda. Whilst we recognise the difficulties
in determining responsibility for private water regulation,
we believe that it is essential that the issues are addressed.
Our comments on the consultation document emphasise the
need for robust standards, greater regulation and accountability,
and long term investment to ensure safe drinking water for
all people in Scotland.
- Regulation of private water supplies.
UNISON recognises that there are substantial resource
implications in requiring all private water supplies to
be regulated by local authorities. However, when balancing
public health with cost, we believe that it is right to
include all private water supplies, not just those serving
more than 50 persons or supplies associated with commercial
As noted in the consultation document, there are many
issues of the protection of visitors and guests to unregulated
areas. The document does not clearly define a "commercial
activity". UNISON is concerned at the risks posed
to users or visitors to community centres, bed and breakfast
accommodation, voluntary or charity properties, which
may not fall into the category of "commercial activity".
Given the importance of tourism in remote and rural areas
we should put in safeguards to ensure standards are consistently
The resource implications for local authorities will
be substantial, and UNISON would envisage additional resources
being allocated for these purposes. We would recommend
clear guidelines on water regulation, and the possibility
of grants or aid for owners of private water supplies
who do not have the means to meet such new requirements.
It should be stressed that UNISON views grants or aids
as a safeguard to protect small co-operatives, crofters
or private owners responsible for private water supplies.
- Relevant person against whom enforcement action will
UNISON acknowledges that both the owner of the land on
which the source of the water supply is located, and the
owner of the property to which the water is supplied,
should have responsibilities to ensure water standards
are adhered to, however we see that this position could
We are aware of the range of scenarios which have potential
to affect water quality which are difficult to legislate
against. For example, environmental or natural occurrences
far upstream of abstraction point, between source and
supply point, and at storage points can affect the quality
It is important to recognise that land may be owned by
co-operatives, community trusts, farmers or crofters,
who may not have the resources to ensure standards are
met. If necessary, as noted in point 1, grants or assistance
could be made available to assist such groups and individuals
who are deemed responsible for ensuring water quality
standards are met.
UNISON believes that there should be certainty over who
is responsible for the water standards within private
water supplies. Due to the issues this "relevant
person" question raises, UNISON would suggest the
Executive may want to do further consultation on this
matter before reaching firm decisions.
- Provision of unfit water.
UNISON agrees that provision of water unfit for human
consumption should be made a criminal offence. It is currently
an offence for public water authorities to provide water
unfit for human consumption, so we believe there is a
strong case for extending this to all private water supplies.
UNISON believes this is in the interests of public health,
and would welcome a mechanism for closure of disputes
between the regulator and individuals who refuse to undertake
reasonable steps to comply.
- Ownership and improvements
UNISON believes that owners should be responsible for
maintaining their supplies. At present a significant number
of private supplies are not properly maintained. In many
cases improvements could be made if owners shared costs
where there is joint ownership. We recognise that in some
cases considerable maintenance is required and we would
wish to see an improvement grants system, or loans for
Ideally UNISON would aim to see private supplies being
brought under local authority controls, however this would
bring enormous cost implications to authorities where
private supplies are below standard. Systems to improve
private supplies prior to the adoption of the private
supply by the public authority would need to be developed,
along with additional resources for water authorities
which take into consideration remote working conditions.
Again we would suggest that the Executive may wish to
consult further on the issues of ownership, and responsibility
for maintenance and improvements.
- Support and education.
UNISON agrees that support, education and information
should be provided to users of private water supplies.
We believe that the water authorities would be the most
appropriate bodies to provide that support. Again there
are resource implications in the provision of any support,
education and information. However given the expertise,
skills and knowledge of employees within the water authorities,
and, with appropriate investment from the Executive, this
function could be met from within the water authorities.
- Register of private water supplies
UNISON agrees that the register of private water supplies
compiled by local authorities should be updated taking
cognisance of the requirements of Directive 98/83/EC.
We welcome the definition of "commercial or public
activity" to include all private supplies to buildings
which the public can reasonably have access in the course
of their normal activities to include; schools, hospitals,
community halls, etc..
- Provision of unwholesome water
UNISON supports the move to make the provision of unwholesome
water a breach of the Regulations. As noted throughout
this submission, the interests of public health should
be paramount, and we agree that this will strengthen the
powers available to Environmental Health Officers in the
pursuance of their duties.
- Microbiological risk protocol
UNISON supports the adoption of a microbiological risk
protocol to identify risk from Cryptosporidium to private
water supplies covered by Directive 98/83/EC.
- Parameters and sampling frequencies
UNISON welcomes the parameters and sampling frequencies
for use with the Private Water Supply Regulations as set
out in Annex B.
- Water quality test results
UNISON supports moves towards regulations that include
a requirement for commercial undertakings and public buildings
to prominently display their current water quality test
results. We believe that this would be useful information
for the public, whether they are employees, customers,
However, UNISON recognises that there are again resource
implications in routine inspections for this measure to
be effective. Given the importance of tourism in remote
and rural areas where the majority of private water supplies
are located, it would give reassurance to the public,
and encourage good practice amongst owners, distributors
and suppliers of private water
- Microbiological risk assessment protocol.
There should be the application of a microbiological
risk assessment protocol for the protection of the sources
of private water supplies. UNISON also welcomes the proposals
for owners to request a visit from Environmental Health
Officials in advance of the programme. Such visits are
going to have significant resource implications for Environmental
Health Officers, however, again in the interests of public
health we believe that this would be a worthwhile initiative.
- Financial Support
UNISON strongly agrees that financial support is required
for improving source protection, and for provision of
point-of-use/point-of-entry devices on private water supplies
where local owners do not have the means to do so. We
look forward to developing this theme in later consultations.
- Adoption of private distribution systems
UNISON believes that the water authority should adopt
private distribution systems where water is potable. Where
the water is raw or partially treated we believe it should
remain in private ownership. UNISON is concerned that
where the water authority is supplying water from the
public network to a private distributing system, this
brings the possibility of the private distributor making
profits out with their distribution costs.
- Quality Regulation
As noted, UNISON supports a system where private distribution
systems are taken into water authority control. Water
authority control would mean that there is no dilemma
over who carries out quality regulation, and would ultimately
lead to improved water quality, and a uniformity of standards
- Council Tax water charges - private distribution
UNISON believes that a water authority should collect
Council Tax water charges where the water supplied originates
from the public network. As noted above the duty of care
to maintain quality standards on private distribution
systems, should ensure that users are receiving water
of the same standard supplied from the water authority.
- Duty of Care
UNISON firmly believes that an additional duty of care
should be placed on a building owner to ensure that water
quality is not degraded where water supplies are taken
from the public supply, through break pressure systems,
and then re-supplied to occupants of tower blocks.
- Council Tax water charges
As noted in point 15, UNISON proposes that the water
authority should still collect Council Tax water charges
in the normal way in blocks of flats where water is delivered
to a central tank and distributed via a private system.
Under the proposals for a duty of care on owners, then
the owner should adhere to this duty of care to ensure
water quality is maintained where supplies are delivered
to a water tank and then distributed within a block of
- Duty of care to replace lead rising mains
The duty of care to replace lead rising mains in tenement
blocks that are in joint ownership should be placed on
the factor in such properties, and where there is no factor
on the owners. However, this will only work if money in
the form of grants, loans or some other assistance is
made available from local authorities for this work.
- Lead pipework
Local authorities should be required to include the
elimination of lead pipework in the specification of works
so as replacement of lead pipework becomes work done under
statutory notice, so as they supervise repairs or replacements.
- Public water supply network
UNISON believes that the legislation should continue to
consider that water supplies taken from raw water mains
are part of the public water supply network.
UNISON notes the Scottish Executive Environment Group's
consultation of 7 February 2002: The Future for Scotland's
Waters - Proposals for Legislation. We look forward
to responding to these latest proposals in due course.
We believe it is essential that there are systems and safeguards
for controlling water abstraction and impoundment, and we
are pleased to see that these issues are being raised in
this new consultation. In addition, we welcome the opportunity
to put forward the case for introducing water use licences,
registration and management agreements. UNISON supports
a more open and accountable approach to Scotland's waters,
monitoring activities and promoting sustainable water use
through specific control measures.
UNISON will outline these comments in greater detail in
our response to this consultation document.
UNISON considers the consultation paper a useful starting
point that addresses a range of environmental, public health,
ownership and responsibility issues. Clearly there are some
long term issues and some considerable resource implications
to consider. In addition there are ownership and responsibility
issues which need careful consultation.
However, UNISON believes that it is essential that Scotland
has a safe and healthy water system, with the appropriate
safeguards, adequate resources, and long term planning.
We strongly believe that the public water authority has
a crucial role to play in this process.