Tag Archives: plain

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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The biggest threat to democracy since World War II – and they tried to keep it secret

Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the 'little' people - the populations they are treading on - are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]

Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is bitter pill for anyone to swallow, if they have spent any time defending Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The partnership between the EU and the United States would open America to the kind of free trade deals that have been going on in Europe ever since the original Economic Community was formed – but there is a problem.

It isn’t a problem for businesses; they are in line to get a deal better than anything ever experienced in the world of trade. Citizens and national governments, on the other hand – you, me, and the people who represent us – will be railroaded.

This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’, which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments.

In other words, this could be the biggest threat to democracy since World War II.

In the UK, it could be used by shale mining companies to ensure that the government could not keep them out of protected areas, by banks fighting financial regulation, and by cigarette companies fighting the imposition of plain packaging for cigarettes. How do we know? Because these things are already happening elsewhere in the world.

If a product had been banned by a country’s regulators, the manufacturer will be able to sue them, forcing that state to pay compensation or let the product in – even if this undermines health and safety laws in that country.

It seems that domestic courts are deemed likely to be biased or lack independence, but nobody has explained why they think the secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers will be impartial. Common sense says they’ll rule for the profit, every time.

Now ask yourself a question: Have you ever heard about this?

Chances are that you haven’t – unless you have read articles by George Monbiot (one in The Guardian this week prompted this piece) or have insider knowledge.

The European Commission has done its utmost to keep the issue from becoming public knowledge. Negotiations on the trade and investment partnership have involved 119 behind-closed-doors meetings with corporations and their lobbyists (please note that last point, all you supporters of the government’s so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill), and just eight with civil society groups. Now that concerned citizens have started to publicise the facts, the Commission has apparently worked out a way to calm us down with a “dedicated communications operation” to “manage stakeholders, social media and transparency” by claiming that the deal is about “delivering growth and jobs” and will not “undermine regulation and existing levels of protection in areas like health, safety and the environment” – meaning it will do precisely the opposite.

Your Coalition government appears to be all for it. Kenneth Clarke reckons it is “Scrooge-like” to inflate concerns about investor protection and ignore the potential economic gains – but if the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement is any yardstick, exports will drop and thousands of jobs will be lost.

Green MP Caroline Lucas has published an early day motion on the issue – signed by a total of seven fellow Parliamentarians so far.

Labour MEPs are doing their best to cut the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ out of the agreement, but they are fighting a lonely battle against the massed forces of greed.

So now ask yourself a second question: Why is the European Commission lying to Britain when we are already halfway out of the door?

Britain is not happy with the European Union or its place within that organisation. People think too much of their national sovereignty – their country’s freedom to do what it wants – is being stripped away by faceless bureaucrats who do not have the best interests of the population at heart. Now the European Commission is trying to foist this upon us.

For Eurosceptics in Parliament – of all political hues – this is a gift. For those of us who accept that we are better off in Europe – as it is currently constituted and without the new trade agreement – it is a poisoned pill.

Are we being pushed into a position where we have to choose between two evils that could have been avoided, if only our leaders had had an ounce of political will and an inch of backbone?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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