A photo of Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay

The government has today caved under the pressure of public demands for more action on private water companies after public outcry over the ongoing sewage pollution scandal. Announcing its ‘Plan for Water’, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said it will introduce stronger regulation on water companies and will consider unlimited penalties for water companies.

It comes after DEFRA and industry regulator OFWAT announced an additional £1.6bn of investment in infrastructure will be brought forward by water firms.

Making the announcement, DEFRA secretary Thérèse Coffey said “Our rare chalk streams and world-famous coastlines, lakes and rivers are hugely important to local communities and to nature.

“I completely understand the concerns that people have about the health and resilience of our waters, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them. That includes higher penalties taken from water company profits which will be channelled back into the rivers, lakes and streams where it is needed.

“This is not straightforward, but I take this issue extremely seriously and things need to change. That’s why we have developed this plan and we are committed to delivering the progress that people want to see.”

However, the Green Party of England and Wales has branded the announcement “too little too late”. The party has also called for water to be taken into public ownership, saying private companies are being allowed to “profit from failure”.

Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “After years of burying their heads, ministers have finally surfaced to tackle the scourge of sewage and pollution in our waterways and along our coasts. It’s clear the Conservatives can also smell a local election in the air and are only acting in response to public pressure.

“The actions are too little too late, and still leave the water industry in private hands able to profit from failure. The Green Party wants to see system change, with our water supply brought back into public ownership at the earliest practicable opportunity.”

While critical of the government, the Labour Party continues to reject public ownership of water. On his LBC show, the Labour leader Keir Starmer said this would “cost a lot of money”, saying that he would instead prioritise spending on doctors and nurses.

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Image credit: Public domain – Creative Commons