GMB, the water workers union, plan to step up a campaign to secure a new ownership structure for the UK water industry that would lead to better value for consumers and open the way to develop new water supplies for London and the South East.
This coincides with a warning sounded by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which produced a map showing hot-spots where the water available to each person was likely to be at a premium. There are fears that within 20 years a parched zone will spread across the country from the Bristol Channel to the Norfolk coast and north of the Midlands.
GMB consider that the Tory privatisation of the water industry has been a complete failure. It has led to higher prices in all parts of England and Wales. In London and the South East it has led to lower standards of service including the 2006 drought orders and hosepipe bans. The industry had been used as a cash cow by a variety of speculators and private equity owners with no long term interest in the industry.
GMB is campaigning to revive a plan, developed in the 1970s by the Water Resources Board, to increase water supplies from the west of Britain to London and the South East. This envisages a scheme to enlarge the Craig Goch reservoir in Plymlimmon mountain range in mid Wales and to move the water via the rivers Wye and Severn and to be pumped into the Thames to supply London and the South East. GMB contend that this would be a cheaper solution to the water shortages in the South East than the Thames Water proposal to build a reservoir at Abingdon.
Gary Smith, GMB National Officer said, GMB is pressing for a debate about how the water industry is owned, controlled and managed. This new OECD report on water stress adds urgency to our call. The next two years could be a crunch time.
Rationing will depend on the pace of global warming unless steps to deal with shortages are taken now. Rationing is likely to be needed in the short run. This is due to the Tories ditching the 1970s plan to move water from Wales to the South East and going for privatization instead. Water companies got away with it last summer because it was a wet summer. We could see standpipes. The wealthy will be able to insulate themselves to some extent. It will be ordinary families who will be hardest hit. This is about people not having an adequate supply of water.
The laws of supply and demand mean that the consumer will pay through the nose for water where there is water stress, especially where we have expansion of housing. If we are not careful, this will be a licence to print money for the water companies.
But we cannot run the water industry “ one of our most essential commodities “ on the basis of a wing and a prayer. We need to go back to a national body that can plan to move the abundant water in the West of Britain to areas of water stress.