Sink, Britain, Sink! – the cost of privatising water management

– This is a song by a local musician, here in Mid Wales, written during the last serious flooding. I make no apologies for opportunistically linking to it as it says a few choice words about the situation and the government.

“And the rains came down, and the floods came up” – The Wise Man and the Foolish Man (Southern Folk Song).

Some of you may have noticed we’ve had a few spots of wet weather recently. This is nothing new to our island nation.

The trouble is, having fallen on us all, the water hasn’t had the decency to clear off and drain away. Instead, it has built up and up and caused a huge amount of flood damage to land and houses that were not built in a safe place, as in the song lyric quoted above, but in flood plains.

This is a result of bad planning – by water and sewerage companies that have failed to implement successful drainage schemes or to divert floodwater from rivers in order to prevent overflow, and by planning authorities that have allowed housing to be built in the wrong place.

What were they thinking?

My guess is that the water companies were thinking about the money, and planning authorities wanted to ease overcrowding.

We live in a country where management of the water supply went into private hands several decades ago. When that happened, it became impossible to have any kind of integrated plan to deal with the supply of water, droughts, floods and storage. Water supply became a commodity to be bought and sold by rich people according to the golden rules of capitalism: Invest the minimum; charge the maximum.

So reservoirs have been sold off to foreign water companies, meaning we have no adequate response to droughts. None have been built, meaning we have no adequate response to floods. Concerns about river flooding have been neglected. There has not been the investment in extraction and storage of floodwater that repeated incidents over the last few years have demanded.

The government is reducing its budget for handling these issues. Not only that, but it is delaying implementation of a new policy on drainage.

This would be regulated by local authorities, who have responsibility for planning approvals. Some might say these authorities should have had a little more forethought before granting applications to build on flood plains, or for adaptations to existing properties that have prevented water from draining into the soil and sent it down drains instead, to overload the sewer system.

Some of these are matters of necessity: Planning officers may have gone to the limit of what is allowed, in order to allow housing developments that relieve the burden of overcrowding; in other matters, they may have been unable to apply any legal restrictions on applications.

In short, there is no joined-up thinking.

There will be no joined-up thinking in the future, either – unless the situation is changed radically.

Meanwhile, the cost racked up by the damage is huge – in ruined farmland, in ruined homes and possessions, and blighted lives. And what about the risk of disease that floodwater brings with it? The NHS in England is ill-equipped to deal with any outbreaks, being seriously weakened by the government-sponsored incursions of private, cheap-and-simple health firms.

Something has to give beneath the weight of all this floodwater. Change is vital – from commercial competition to co-operation and co-ordination.

Privatisation of water has failed. It’s time to bring it back under public control.

Is anyone opposed?

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13 thoughts on “Sink, Britain, Sink! – the cost of privatising water management

  1. Andrew Peacock

    THESE ARE TORIES .THEY SEEM TO PRIDE THEMSELVES IN SELLING OFF ANYTHING BRITISH .SO AS THE LAST TORY GOVERNMENT ,THATCHERS ,SOLD OFF THE WATER THEN BRITISH RAIL ,THEN SHE CLOSED ALL THE COAL MINES MAKING US TOTALLY RELIANT ON GAS TO POWER OUR POWER STATIONS .SO NOW WATER COMPANIES CHARGE WHAT THY WANT ! RAIL PRICES ARE REDICULOUS !YOUR GAS AND ELECTRICITY ,HOW MUCH ?

  2. Robert Fillies

    Totally with you on that one Mike, and while they’re at it take all our public services back into state ownership.

  3. jeffrey davies

    nothings is safe in tory hands I wait for the day theyl be charging for the air you breath cant be far off

  4. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    As well as the greed, venality and serious under-investment following the privatisation of the water companies outlined by Mike in this great article, other policies of successive Tory and Labour administrations have contributed to the floods. The Conservatives set up a supervisory body to regulate the water and sewage service industries, then proceeds to do their utmost to reduce their powers and effectiveness. I can well remember reading a number of articles about this in Private Eye during John Major’s tenure of 10 Downing Street. This was achieved partly by the appointment to the relevant regulatory boards senior directors of the companies they were supposed to be regulating, as occurred elsewhere with the electricity companies and most recently the banks. And look how wonderfully successful the latter proved to be!

    As for the present floods, the Tories claim to have spent more on flood defences, but in fact a recent BBC news report stated that expenditure had been cut, thus confirming what was already obvious: the Conservative prefer lying to the public than actually spending money.

  5. Thomas M

    Some things, maybe most things, are good in private hands. But not water, electricity and other things that a) we can’t do without, and b) have either one company or a de facto cartel of companies running them, that get very rich at everyone else’s expense.
    With water it means there is either too little or too much.

  6. Mike Sivier

    A personal friend of mine, Joel Thomas, has said this on Facebook, and I bow to his wisdom in these matters:

    “I agree with the points made about privatising water management, it is a mess. Might I point out though that it is too much drainage, hard surface areas and canalisation that causes flooding, water flows off the land too quick, more flood defences will not fix this it tends to push the problem elsewhere. Better land management is needed in general I think ie more wetlands, less paved gardens and more woodlands.”

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