UK problems much bigger than Thames Water

England’s sewage problems are not only much bigger than those of Thames Water (see the last blog) but they also characterise broader policy failure across the nation.

Private Eye cartoon

(cartoon copyright Private Eye)

Moreover, Thames Water’s financial and sewage troubles are shared by other UK water companies and are now even creating what some are dubbing a Truss-style borrowing crisis.

In particular, there is now, according to The Guardian (29/4), a government plan, called Project Timber, to renationalise Thames Water and other water companies possibly taking UK government debt to more than 100% of GDP.

More and more of the water industry is in trouble. United Utilities serves England’s north-west. Last year it recorded the ten highest number of sewage overspills from monitored storm overflows of any English water company. Last year it had 97,537 spills and during 2023 it’s ‘monitored spill events’ happened over 650,014 hours.

It is promising to fix the situation however – by 2050.

The entire UK water industry in 2023 has had a 54% increase in sewage spills over the previous years with other companies such as Yorkshire Water and South-West Water also sharing in the shit-storm.

The Guardian reported (29/4) that the UK was concerned that a Thames Water financial collapse was so big that it could trigger a rise in government borrowing costs similar to that after the short-lived Liz Truss mini-budget. The UK Debt Management Office wants Thames Water to be renationalised before the general election in a bid to resolve the problem.

Needless to say, these problems are not recent. The seeds of almost all these UK problems can be found in the Thatcher years – an administration regarded as the prime example of the benefits of neo-liberalism. Privatise everything in sight; sell off public housing; nobble trade unions; destroy the coal mining industry and with it their union (well that at least had environmental benefits even if they were unintended); and elevate ‘the market’ to holy status.

Maggie did, at least believe in the threat of climate change which is unsurprising given her scientific background. But while she pledged she was “not for turning” it wouldn’t have been surprising if she joined all the other climate deniers as the issue became a test of conservative faith.

Sadly, the election of the Blair-Brown Labour Governments did little to repair the damage as it often tried to out-Thatcher Thatcher along with enthusiastically joining the US Iraq disaster – with us sadly going along as bit players.

The following Tory Governments just made things worse, and the UK now has many of the attributes of a Third World country – rampant corruption including the rorts during COVID equipment and service procurement; a failing health care system; endemic poverty in many communities; the Brexit own goal; and, in many communities it is unsafe to drink the water.

Given the scale of these problems they are also raising questions about Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s quiet as a mouse Albo-like approach to the election and policy proposals given the other UK problems ranging from health care and housing to local government bankruptcies and a public transport system which has been rendered expensive, inefficient and unreliable.

There are often bad times to win elections. But then it is always better to be in government than not – especially if you suspect you have got at least two terms ahead of you. Starmer may be inheriting the proverbial excreta sandwich but if the polls are right, it will take a couple of elections at least before the Tories are competitive again.