Privatised water companies 'paid £377 average in dividends for every hour they polluted seas'

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Privatised water companies paid an average £377 in dividends for every hour they polluted rivers and seas last year, research shows.

Campaign group We Own It says eight suppliers in England handed out more than £1.35billion in payouts between them in the last financial year. They discharged sewage for a total of 3.6 million hours.

Matthew Topham, lead campaigner at We Own It, said: “No one else in Europe runs water like England. Today’s figures are a clear reminder of why: under privatisation, you profit from pollution. Privatisation is often said to have led to investment. Sadly, that’s just not true.”

Matthew works as a Lead Campaigner for Better Buses in West Yorkshire

James Wallace, chief executive of River Action UK, said: “These figures show yet again that our Government regulators have put polluters’ profits before people and our planet. We need the new Government to regulate water companies with the full force of the law, prioritising cleaning up our rivers.”

We Own It’s research looked at dividends paid from the companies regulated by Ofwat. In many cases, the money went to other linked companies, rather than to shareholders, so the companies themselves report different figures.

Accounts for Severn Trent show it paid out £428million in the 12 months to March last year – the company says £260m went to shareholders. Between January and December, it was responsible for spills lasting a total of 440,446 hours. Boss Liv Garfield raked in £3.2m for 2023. Severn Trent said: “We’ve invested £1.2bn in our assets in the last year.”

Severn Trent Liv Garfield

We Own It’s figures showed United Utilities paid £454.2m in dividends in the year to March – the firm says shareholders got £320m. It had spills lasting 656,014 hours in 2023.

Steve Mogford, United Utilities’ chief executive until March last year, netted a near £2.3m package. United Utilities said: “Over the last 33 years, we have invested three times as much as we have paid in dividends.” The GMB union’s conference in Bournemouth heard calls for water bosses’ bonuses to be capped and Ofwat to be scrapped.

Cliff Roney, a water worker and rep, said: “What is needed is a new regulatory body that enforces all water companies to ensure our water industry is better than it was before privatisation.”