Channel 4 exposes the filthy cost of England’s privatised water as Scottish Water stays clean and trusted

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NOT the crossing on the River Ayr in Ayr

Story idea: David Nicol

In a disturbing piece on Channel 4 News last night, we heard:

Untreated sewage is being released into rivers across England and Wales – perfectly legally – and campaigners are calling it a ‘dirty little secret’. This programme has now obtained exclusive figures showing how often and for how long it’s happening. Water companies are allowed to release a mixture of rainwater and sewage through special overflow pipes during spells of heavy rain – but we’ve discovered that during 2018 – there were 140,000 spills, lasting a total of 900,000 hours.

The disaster of water privatisation in England:

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2015 data

According to the Environment Agency reported on the BBC UK website last July:

[In England] there were 56 serious pollution incidents last year [2018], rising from 52 in 2017, the agency’s annual report said. Only one of the nine major water companies in England is performing at the expected level, with most likely to miss 2020 targets, the agency added. The report follows the agency’s announcement that Southern Water is facing prosecution after it was hit with a record £126m penalty package over “shocking” failures in its sewage treatment sites.

Meanwhile in Scotland, according to SEPA:

In 2017, for the first time in a number of years, Scottish Water was not responsible for any category 1, serious pollution incidents.

A report in Open Democracy attributes the situation in England to privatisation:

The dire state of our rivers is just one of the many, many failures of water and sewerage privatisation. It is just one example of what happens when we hand over not just time-limited contracts for delivering water and sewerage services, but the actual assets themselves – the pipes, the infrastructure – to private companies to milk for profit.

The resulting customer satisfaction:

In a ComRes survey of 199 Scots, published last July, we see:

  • Thinking generally about the company that provides your water and sewerage services, do you or do you not trust your water company? UK 86% Scotland 94%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Provide a reliable service? UK 90% Scotland 96%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Ensure good quality of water? UK 90% Scotland 95%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Fix water pipe leaks in public areas (e.g. in roads, not in the home)? UK 81% Scotland 93%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Take action to protect and improve the environment? UK 78% Scotland 87%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Take away wastewater and sewage and deal with it responsibly? UK 88% Scotland 93%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Provide good value for money to customers? UK 72% Scotland 88%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Pay an appropriate amount of tax? UK 78% Scotland 87%
  • Do you or do you not trust your water company to… Invest sufficient money on the water network? UK 73% Scotland 86%

Published by johnrobertson834

Retired Professor of Media Politics Not-for-profit independent political analysis

8 thoughts on “Channel 4 exposes the filthy cost of England’s privatised water as Scottish Water stays clean and trusted

  1. It’s called storm water – the system has to have a facility to overflow into rivers etc in a sudden storm event, overflow of excess surface water, and sewage (or it destroys your sewage works). There are several issues with how you design the system – and some of these works are very old and haven’t been sufficiently upgraded – you have to predict the future on how bad rainfall might be say only once in every 200 years. Unfortunately global warming is increasing the frequency of storm events so you system needs to be able to handle the increased demand – which means regular infrastructure upgrades.

    In a storm event, it’s meant to be that any sewage is so dilute it barely registers – if that’s not the case then something is badly wrong.

    Now, in both Scotland and England, water quality, and wastewater, is highly regulated, but I would suggest that in Scotland SEPA seems to have more teeth – they really keep an eye on outflows and demand infrastructure upgrades in a timely manner, and Scottish Water generally delivers. By being a public body, Scottish Water can makes upgrades without having to keep an eye on profit so are more likely to do it (that big sewage pipe they built under glasgow to take the volume away from Dalmarnock treatment works for instance, and to upgrade old Victorian brick pipes to prevent overflows into the Clyde – some of the infrastructure is truly ancient).

    All the water companies in England are still highly regulated, they have to go through public procurement processes and stuff like that, and need to deliver a certain quality of water or sewage treatment or get penalties. I think that’s reflected in the fairly high satisfaction rate (but think that’s down to regulation not the actual companies). But I would suggest that most of the infrastructure and treatment works are at capacity, and there seems to be little drive to build new, or do serious upgrades, which they really need, and their fixing of things to water quality standards seem to take a long time, many delays. They have the problem of a much higher population, less clean water,,, and private companies that are really not that interest in making the needed improvements.

    So, that’s why they end up with sewage in the waterways – a rubbish idea to privatise the water companies. It might end up cheaper for Southern Water to pay the penalties than to pay for the necessary upgrades.

    A bit like it’s worthwhile for the Tories to pay the pathetic fines to the electoral commission for breaking every rule to win an election. They make the rules, but it’s only everyone else that needs to obey them.

    Liked by 1 person


      The trouble with private companies in England and Wales is they do not invest in thye system infrstructure because ultimately profit tops all. It’s why Scottish water must always be public owned, at least the domestic part. Labout when at Holyrood sold off the non domestic arm of Scottish water, they planned to seel it all had they been voted in again and would do so if they could, let’s make sure they never get the keys to Holyrood again.

      Anyone notice if you are in a public loo anywhere the water you get to wash your hands is a trickle, in fact I noticed at the big Sainsburys there was basically no water coming out of the taps! That’s privatisation for you.


  2. Another point that was made in the CH4 item was the fact that too many people are using their toilets as waste bins and putting things down the toilet that should not be disposed of via that route eg sanitary products etc. That material displaces water which results in the overflow level being reached more frequently. Not the whole problem but some sort of publicity campaign might help. Major investment in infrastructure is still the primary solution though

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To some extent that is a puzzle as more and more houses are metered in England–so it costs more to flush than bin items.

      Scotland has real problem with farm run-off into rivers—algae, green gunge etc due to excess nitrogen.

      Liked by 1 person

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Grouse Beater

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