MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has made another blistering Parliamentary attack on South West Water, which he has previously described as ‘probably the worst water company in the country’.
Mr Liddell-Grainger made his comments on Tuesday (September 19) in Westminster Hall under a Parliamentary privilege which allows MPs to make comments without fear of being sued.
He attacked the company’s record on releasing raw sewage into the waterways of Somerset and Devon, the salaries and bonuses of top executives, its failure to properly tackle leaks or create enough storage for water, and the fact it was the only firm to still impose a hosepipe ban.
Mr Liddell-Grainger currently represents West Somerset, but will be the Conservative candidate at the next General Election for the new Tiverton and Minehead constituency taking in areas of Mid Devon around Wellington.
He also attacked the industry regulators for not properly carrying out their roles, citing the Environment Agency’s failure to audit South West Water in eight of the past 13 years, meaning it did not not know how much or when raw sewage was being released into waterways.
Mr Liddell-Grainger was also similarly scathing of Mid Devon District Council, which had lost £21 million in setting up a housing company and where one of its Liberal Democrat councillors elected in May had not attended a meeting since.
South West Water was approached for its comments in response to Mr Liddell-Grainger’s speech, but declined to say anything.
Mr Liddell-Grainger’s speech in full is here:
“For ten disgusting years South West Water has been dumping raw sewage in the lovely rivers of Devon and Cornwall.
For ten disgraceful years South West Water has been dishing out huge dividends to its shareholders instead of investing to clean up its own filthy act.
For ten deplorable years South West Water has been rated as red by the Environment Agency.
Red for appalling. Red for risky. Red for downright dangerous.
You can buy their shares if you fancy - but watch out. This company has been borrowing its way out of trouble for years.
Pre-privatisation they were debt free. But only two years ago they were in hock to the tune of over £2 billion.
They have reduced it a bit, but with rising costs and the threat of a big stick from the regulators South West Water looks like a dodgy stock in which to place your money.
The company’s chief financial officer has already decided to leave. Who can blame him.
South West Water is now under serious investigation for massaging statistics. They have lied about the scale of ongoing pollution, and they have already been fined over £2 million for dumping poo in the recent past.
They do not even make water. They sell it – and charge the highest prices in Britain for every little drop.
They also lose water at a frightening rate through burst pipes and their own broken promises to repair them.
Almost 127 million litres every day goes straight down the drain.
Which might matter less if they had enough water to last. But they do not.
There are two reservoirs in the area. Roadford, in Devon, and Wimblehall Lake, on Exmoor.
Needless to say South West Water did not actually build either of them. They were constructed in the days before privatisation.
The only addition South West Water seems to have made is a highly unpopular time share village on the banks of Roadwater lake. For money, of course.
So, they leak like a sieve, make their customers pay through the nose, and are rapidly running out of storage space for what is left.
I guess we should not be surprised that South West Water still has a hosepipe ban. The only one in Britain. What a joke.
You might have noticed that the Government has been passing laws to trample on obscene bonuses which are often awarded in the name of ‘protecting the environment’.
I am all in favour – in principle. It is a great idea, hitting the culprits hard where it hurts, in their wallets.
But the Honourable Lady and her team probably did not reckon on the ingenious methods of these water companies.
When it became clear that they could not get away with piping poo into the rivers willy nilly and paying each other fat bungs for saving the planet they had a little think.
And, guess what, they decided to award themselves handsome bonuses for meeting their financial targets instead.
It was an idea borrowed from Wessex Water.
And if that ruse fails, then South West Water will probably move the goal posts yet again, and... who knows... award each other big bucks for helping old ladies across the road.
In the water industry, more or less anything seems to be acceptable these days.
Last week, for example, the BBC did something quite unusual.
They did some solid old-fashioned journalism and produced a story which should have chilled the Honourable Lady to her core.
Water companies are allowed to dump raw or partly treated sewage on a strictly limited basis when the weather is really wet and the pipes would otherwise get overloaded.
They need a permit to do so.
But some bright spark at the Beeb wondered what would happen if you could discover exactly when the discharges happened and what the weather was like at the time.
The results of their inquiries were shocking.
They found out that 388 dumps, if you will pardon the expression, took place in bone dry conditions – which is illegal.
This is probably only the tip of a very smelly scandal, because so few water companies provided any information whatsoever.
All nine English water companies were sent requests about when their spills started and stopped.
Only Thames, Southern, and Wessex provided details - which the BBC then cross-referenced with Met Office rainfall data.
Most of them took place during the drought last year.
Take Wessex. They admitted 215 individual spills at 68 different sites which lasted for more than 60 hot, rainless days.
That is a whole lot of illegal muck.
The Beeb had to rely on the water company’s own monitoring equipment.
But, surprise, surprise, South West Water claims it could not help because it has very old equipment, or more likely they could not be bothered.
South West Water is like Russell Brand.
South West Water has a broken moral compass and a cavalier attitude to its own filth.
In my view it is a working certainty that South West Water was and still is , quietly pumping pollution into our rivers but we do not how much or when.
The people who ought to be finding out are equally powerless.
The Environment Agency does not have the manpower or the time to investigate every infringement.
They have to rely on information from the companies themselves.
In 2010 the Agency had its budget halved, and austerity comes at a price.
The Environment Agency now fails to audit water companies every year – and they are meant to do that by law.
Only a third of all audits take place to check if companies are telling the truth about pollution and illegal sewage.
Audits for South West Water, with its dismal record for pollution, are missing for eight of the past 13 years.
This company of ruthless money grabbing cowboys make Al Capone look like an angel.
South West Water is far and away the worst water company in this country.
The chief executive officer is paid £456,000 a year – that is almost four times as much as the Prime Minister.
And you should see the size of the bonuses these people get. The same CEO could have cleaned up an extra £450,000 this year.
But she reckoned it would be good PR to turn it down. Makes her look like a caring, sharing sort of chief executive.
So, I will be coming round with the begging bowl a little later. Please give generously.
And do not forget the company’s group chair – the squeaky clean figurehead, appointed deliberately to add gravitas to the grubby business of getting rid of what goes down the toilet.
Her name is Gill Rider. Doctor Gill Rider, no less. She did five years at the top of the Cabinet Office so she should jolly well understand leaks and dirty deeds.
She is also president of the Marine Biological Association which was set up to help protect the environment of our coasts.
What a wonderful irony, given how much of South West Water’s sewage still ends up in the sea.
Ms Rider is, of course, just a non-executive chairperson. Which is why the poor lady has to scrape along on a pittance of £113,000 a year.
Perhaps it was her who suggested hiring a firm of top city lawyers to scare off local news organisations.
The editors were bullied into censoring my own press releases for fear of writs for defamation.
These are the tactics of mobsters. But Gill Rider is used to getting her own way.
One foot out of line and you risk ending up with the severed head of a horse on your pillow.
Or maybe a few dead fish from local rivers.
Which reminds me. There is in Tiverton an almost dead building firm called Three Rivers Developments.
It was conceived by senior officers of Mid Devon Council, who thought it would solve all their financial problems.
They have never built a Lego house let alone a real one. They had not got a clue.
Six years and £21 million later, the company is stony broke.
The kindest thing would be to cut their losses and shut it down quickly.
Instead, the loony Lib Dem leadership intend to let it limp on, haemorrhaging public money.
This is the political party, by the way, that promised big change in Mid Devon.
It cannot even deliver small change.
I note, with alarm, that one of their members was elected to Tiverton Town Council back in May and has not managed to turn up at a single meeting since.
No wonder people are calling for a by-election to unseat him.
And as for the Liberal Democrat MP for the area, who ought to be kicking the backside of South West Water on a painful and regular basis.
I gather he would like the company completely reformed. I am sure they will take his views with the seriousness they deserve.
He can leave the kicking to me. I have already attacked South West Water and I do not intend to let it rest.
There are other backsides worthy of my toecap, too.
In have already highlighted the shortcomings of the Environment Agency, and OFWAT, the regulators are far from rapid in their response to water company excesses.
But the Government department responsible, the Honourable Lady’s own Ministry, DEFRA, cannot plead innocent.
She worked hard, I recognise, to steer the tough new water legislation through Westminster.
And yes, of course, it is good news to be able to offer limitless fines as a punishment for polluting our rivers.
But the whole exercise is pointless if the systems and agencies cannot enforce the law.
That is precisely what seems to be happening.
She will recall, I am sure, that the Environment Act of 2021 created a brand new Office of Environmental Protection charged with holding everyone responsible to account.
Ministers, Departments, agencies, they all come under the new OEP and the new OEP has already spoken.
The OEP opened an investigation into the Environment Agency and OFWAT and DEFRA last June, amid concerns that they had not properly been enforcing the law.
At the heart of the case, the OEP said, was whether or not these bodies were correctly interpreting what counts as extraordinary circumstances.
Water companies have been granted permits to discharge sewage into rivers and seas hundreds of thousands of times a year when their networks have been overwhelmed by rainwater.
This was on the basis that such rainfall was considered extraordinary circumstances.
The OEP, however, believes that Defra, the EA, and Ofwat, may have been too lenient in interpreting the law.
So, the Hon Lady and her department may end up defending itself against a public body they created.
This is a monumental mess and must be fixed, because otherwise the long suffering public will never forgive us.”