27 March 2024 – today’s press releases (part 2)

  • Ed Davey warns Sunak facing sewage local elections backlash on campaign visit to Dorset
  • Khan already failing on Met recruitment
  • Sewage spills rise: 21,660 “disgusting” sewage dumps in 2023
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats respond to Housing Bill
  • Cole-Hamilton responds to hackers’ threat of publishing NHS stolen data
  • Rennie: Ministers’ fingerprints all over Tydeman sacking

Ed Davey warns Sunak facing sewage local elections backlash on campaign visit to Dorset

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey will today warn that Rishi Sunak is facing a “sewage backlash” at the ballot box in May’s local elections, on a visit to West Dorset as part of his campaign tour of the West Country.

Ed Davey will be meeting CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, Giles Bristow, and visiting West Bay beach, a popular tourist destination where pollution alerts were put in place after raw sewage was discharged last year.

The Liberal Democrats have led the campaign in Westminster to tackle the sewage scandal since 2021, and it’s been a key issue in their big victories in previous local election campaigns and four parliamentary by-election wins.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the water industry to be “ripped up from top to bottom” to ensure profit is no longer put above environmental goals, and the creation of a new tougher regulator to replace Ofwat. Since the Liberal Democrats were the first party to call for a ban on water firm executive bonuses over two years ago, a number of water CEOs have given theirs up.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

Rishi Sunak and Conservative MPs are facing a sewage backlash after years of blocking tough measures to crack down on water firms. The water industry needs to be ripped up from top to bottom, to stop profits and shareholders’ dividends driving everything. It is time to start again.

Sunak may have bottled a General Election, but he cannot hide from voters in the local elections where communities will voice real anger at this environmental scandal.

From Dorset to Yorkshire, lifelong Conservative voters across the country are switching to the Liberal Democrats because they’re fed up with seeing their rivers and beaches ruined by sewage.

Under this Conservative government both sewage in our rivers and water company profits have increased hand in hand. Enough is enough: it is clear the only way to end this sewage scandal is to boot the Conservatives out of government.

Khan already failing on Met recruitment

Responding to Sadiq Khan’s announcement that a possible Labour Government would give London more resources to recruit police officers, Lib Dem Mayoral Candidate Rob Blackie said:

This smacks of another pre-election gimmick from the Mayor. Surely any future Government wouldn’t deny London the resources it needs if it decides to elect a different party into the Mayoralty?

In any case, the Mayor is already failing on police recruitment. Numbers are going backwards and he has had to hand money back to the Government for his lack of success. So Londoners will be sceptical. Sadiq Khan has made similar promises before and not delivered.

Under Sadiq Khan’s leadership, a police officer told the Casey enquiry into the Met police that detection rates for sexual offences and rape had fallen so low that ‘it may as well be legal’ in London.

Today the Metropolitan police are catching rapists half as often as when Sadiq Khan became Mayor in 2016. And 6,000 police are stuck in the back office instead of the frontline.

This is not a policing record to be proud of. The Liberal Democrats’ top priority will be to fix the Met.

Sewage spills rise: 21,660 “disgusting” sewage dumps in 2023

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today demanded that the SNP and Greens stop defending outdated sewage standards as new Scottish Water figures revealed a 10% increase in the number of sewage dumps in 2023.

The figures published this morning by the government-owned water company show that in 2023 alone:

  • 21,660 discharges were logged, up from 19,676 incidents in 2022
  • Sewage was dumped for a total of 221,002 hours in 2023 – more than 600 hours a day.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced plans for a Clean Water Act which would see:

  • Scotland’s Victorian sewage network updated;
  • Every sewage dump monitored and published with binding targets for their reduction;
  • A blue flag system for Scotland’s rivers;
  • A complete ban on the release of sewage in protected areas such as bathing waters.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

It is disgusting to learn sewage is being dumped into our waterways 59 times a day.

Even that figure is likely to be a significant underestimate because only a small fraction of sewer overflows are monitored. Scotland is way behind England where nearly every overflow is monitored.

To make matters worse, while our rivers, lochs and coastlines are destroyed, customers are facing huge price rises from the government-owned water company and its executives are pocketing bumper bonuses.

SNP and Green ministers must stop being spin doctors for these outdated sewage standards and get tough with the government-owned water company.

To turn the tide on this scandal, Scottish Liberal Democrats have published plans for a Clean Water Act that would see vital updates to our sewage network and a clamp down on discharges.

Scottish Liberal Democrats respond to Housing Bill

Responding to the publication of the Scottish Government’s Housing (Scotland) Bill today, Scottish Liberal Democrat communities spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said:

The SNP Government has refused to acknowledge the housing crisis. Ministers have axed a third from the housing budget, presided over record high levels of homelessness and let the number of affordable housing approvals fall to its lowest level for more than a decade.

The cumulative effect of both this bill and similar legislation over the past few years is concerning and needs to be taken into consideration, especially in relation to rent controls.

In trying to resolve one problem, there is a real risk that the legislation exacerbates many others and does nothing to make things better for communities. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats would re-establish social renting as a long-term option and bring thousands of long-term empty homes back into use.

Cole-Hamilton responds to hackers’ threat of publishing NHS stolen data

Responding to the news that a ransomware group is threatening to publish a huge cache of stolen data from NHS Dumfries and Galloway, which includes confidential information on patients, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:

These reports are extremely troubling, and my thoughts are with the staff and patients at NHS Dumfries and Galloway who will be feeling shaken by the news.

With so much of our lives now online, we need to be alert to the fresh opportunities that this creates for criminals.

My party requested an urgent question on this matter in Parliament, but unfortunately this wasn’t granted. Ministers must explain what steps they are taking to prevent this attack from happening in other health boards, as well as ensuring that boards and public bodies can share advice, information and expertise.

Rennie: Ministers’ fingerprints all over Tydeman sacking

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon during an urgent question, where he uncovered that the Cabinet Secretary knew that the contract of the outgoing Chief Executive at Ferguson Marine could be terminated a month before it happened, and that she had it confirmed to her that it would happen a week prior, Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said:

The Cabinet Secretary dares to lecture us about respect, but where is the respect for the taxpayers who’ve had to bail out this ferry disaster to tune of hundreds of millions of pounds? Or to the islanders who’ve had to put up with endless delays? Or, indeed, to the workers who’ve been embarrassed by the shocking leadership from this government?

When will somebody in this government carry the can for this ferry disaster?

Speaking after the exchange, Mr Rennie said:

Ministers’ fingerprints are all over this. David Tydeman told the SNP what they didn’t want to hear and it looks like he’s now paying the price.

The Cabinet Secretary confessed today that she presided over his sacking for several weeks, so she is responsible for this latest chaotic episode in the construction of the ferries.

But once again, no minister pays the price.

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24 Comments

  • I get it that Sir Ed Davey is unhappy about the current pollution and sewage situation, but that is not enough..

    What is not clear – certainly to me and I guess to the vast majority of the population – is the actual Lib Dem policy to remedy the situation. It needs to be spelt out loud and clear in terms the general public will understand.

  • Peter Martin 28th Mar '24 - 10:47am

    @ David Raw,

    “What is not clear – certainly to me and I guess to the vast……”

    Ed Davey claims to be making it clear ” the only way to end this sewage scandal is to boot the Conservatives out of government.”

    Hey Presto! Maybe it won’t rain quite as much with a different Govt?

    I’d start by saying that the utilities should be renationalised “to ensure profit is no longer put above environmental goals”. Even so, investment in pollution control has to be made to ensure the problem is tackled effectively. Polluters, such as chicken factory farmers, need to pay the cost of fixing the problem they help create.

    I doubt Ed would quite go that far though!

  • Come on people, read the text. Davey’s solution is (drum roll):

    “The water industry needs to be ripped up from top to bottom”

    So, there’s your choice, voters. Meaningless hyperbole from the Lib Dems, versus promises to change nothing from Keir Starmer!

  • Peter Davies 28th Mar '24 - 1:41pm

    Presumably “profit put above environmental goals” would be replaced with “minimising losses put above environmental goals”. I don’t have a problem with re-nationalisation but it’s not the solution. The solution is massive spending on separating rain water from sewage. Ultimately that comes from the tax payer or consumer who are broadly the same people.

  • @ Peter Martin Happen to agree with you on this one, Peter.

    Fiddling about with Ofwat isn’t going to do it. Neither will stamping one’s wellies and then wading perilously into a river. Water needs to be re-nationalised with a clear agenda and a clear budget. End of.

    Excellent item about it on the BBC News this morning.

  • To add a bit of info…………. to take an example in the blue wall constituencies :

    THAMES WATER : Annual report for the year ending 31 March 2022, reported annual revenues of around £2bn, generating a profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of around £1bn (a margin of around 50%).

    And how much does the CEO of Thames Water get paid ? Thames’ new CEO will be paid £850,000 a year in base salary, with a pension allowance of 12%, with a potential bonus pay out of 156%, potentially worth over £1.3 million. Info on 14 Dec 2023″.

    Message to Ed Davey ? Wellies off and get it sorted.

  • @ Peter Davies One can reflect on the fact that full privatization of water supply and sanitation is an exception today, being limited to England, Chile and some cities in the United States. Obviously in England, it ain’t working.

    Back in the day, Liberals used to sing ‘God gave the land to the people’……… maybe it’s time to add water to the list…………….

  • Graham Jeffs 28th Mar '24 - 3:22pm

    The expression “you get what you pay for” comes to mind. Only “we” don’t pay and the LDs aren’t pointing out that there isn’t some wonderful funding lake that so exceeds demands on it that taxes need to be reduced.

    Following the budget, someone I know claimed that the 2p reduction in NI would deliver them £1,500. They thought it totally immoral……..

    So we have among other things a struggling agriculture sector, inadequate defence capability, decaying infrastructure – road, rail, water- an NHS hobbled by the care sector and an ever growing culture of “it’s not my job” coupled with a failure to strive for professionalism.

    Simply getting rid of the Conservatives won’t be enough. But does anyone have a plan?

    Throwing money at problems is by no means always the answer, but we can be sure that not spending money won’t bring about a resolution.

  • So you nationalise the water companies. That means that the Government has to immediately pay out the market value of those companies (and remember, market value normally incorporates an estimate of future profits) and take on responsibility for paying the companies’ debts. You hope to save money by not paying out future dividends, but without the profit motive, where’s the incentive for management to ensure the company is efficiently run? In the long run, you risk just replacing dividends with paying money for bloated inefficient operations because noone in the nationalised company has any reason to stop that happening. And you STILL have to sort out the sewage problem! So where’s the benefit?

    @David Raw. £850K + bonus sounds a lot to pay a CEO but in the context of a £2Bn revenue company, it’s basically nothing. The cost of 10 senior professional salaries. The question is, can you pay less and still get someone skilled enough to do the job of CEO?

  • Simon R 28th Mar ’24 – 3:51pm… This ‘skilled’ CEO was in charge of a monopoly; my dog could do the job…

    Seriously, though, the investors have just ‘pulled the plug’ on half a billion pounds funding..Hmmm, on second thoughts, maybe my comment about my dog wasn’t so far fetched..

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Mar '24 - 4:28pm

    @Simon R
    “The question is, can you pay less and still get someone skilled enough to do the job of CEO?”
    Do ethics (or lack of…) come into it at all?

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Mar '24 - 4:55pm

    Quoting from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2024/mar/28/who-will-win-in-standoff-between-thames-water-investors-and-watchdog
    “On one side of the standoff were officials from Ofwat, which stands accused of allowing water companies to run amok for decades, and has toughened up its act of late. On the other were the shareholders, drawn in the first place to invest in an essential public utility and a monopoly because, as one researcher put it, “it was an ATM for investors”.”

  • I have lost faith in the BBC News and prefer CH4…Last night Feargal Sharkey’s interview, on CH4’s extended coverage of the pollution issue, was quite brilliant..

  • @Nonconformistradical; Paying someone a large salary isn’t by itself unethical (If you can show that the way the salary was decided was dodgy and the job isn’t worth that salary, then you might have a case for saying it’s unethical, but if you want to make that claim, you’d need some evidence for that. For example, is that salary way out of line with typical CEO salaries for similarly sized companies?).

    @expats: “Investors have just ‘pulled the plug’ on half a billion pounds funding” To my mind that’s slightly misleading because it implies that investors have gone back on some previous commitment. As I understand it, they haven’t: Investors have simply declined to provide lots of their own money to invest in something new that they consider carries too much risk of losing that money vs. not enough return. And that’s reasonable: In a liberal society, there’s rightly no compulsion on people or organisations to invest in stuff that they don’t want to invest in.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Mar '24 - 7:03pm

    @Simon R
    My point about ethics is what is the well-paid person doing for their pay? Might it be fair to suggest that Thames Water execs are paid a lot of money (out of their customers’ pockets) for not doing a very good job?

    I admit to being sympathetic to the idea that the profit motive doesn’t mix very well with essential public services.

  • I don’t think any of us are in a position to judge whether the Thames Water CEO did a good job in 2023. It’s clear that something went badly wrong when Macquarie owned Thames Water between 2006-2017: Paying out so much in dividends while taking on so many debts does sound wrong – and from my limited understanding of company law, I’m not clear how it could even be legal. I think we need an investigation and to see what lessons can be learned. But we are discussing a salary in 2023 – under new owners trying to pick up the pieces long after the damage was done. So if you want to question the ethics of that, you’d need to find evidence of poor management in 2023, not poor management prior to 2017!

    More generally, I worry that as LibDems we (rightly) accept the market economy as the only proven way to generate wealth, but it sometimes feels like every time a company makes a large profit, we’re jumping up and down crying ‘foul’ and demanding that the profits get taken away. Well, sorry but if you want a market economy generating wealth, that goes with that it has to be OK for companies make profits. Otherwise no-one will ever want to invest in anything and the economy basically collapses.

  • Chris Moore 28th Mar '24 - 7:31pm

    Oh dear, how many of you calling for nationalisation of the water industry even bothered to read the whole article?

    You are simply not serious about this issue.

    Scottish Water – a publicly run company – has a lamentable record on sewage. It only even others to monitor a tiny percentage of sewage overflows.

    Nationalisation may give you all a warm feeling, but will do nothing to improve the issue of sewage.

    The only way to improve the situation is MASSIVE investment in renewing water infrastructure. We are talking about tens of billions of pounds, whether companies are publicly or privately owned.

    The sums paid out to executives are grossly excessive, but reducing executive pay is immaterial, in view of the sums needed to renew the industry.

  • Chris Moore 28th Mar '24 - 8:04pm

    @David Raw: Thames Water is very heavily loss-making, as you are surely aware.

    EBITDA margin is seriously misleading in asset-heavy companies, as it precisely doesn’t include amortisation or depreciation, which are very significant negative figures in such companies. So the 50% margin you quote is of not much use to any serious analyst of such an asset-heavy company.

    The basic message is this: stop kidding yourselves with just so stories about the wonderbar public sector.

    What is needed is unplesantly large amounts of investment and the home truth that customers would need to pay MUCH more or be taxed MUCH more or government borrow MUCH more to finance public investment e.g. in Scottish Water. There is no way round this.

  • Mick Taylor 28th Mar '24 - 8:29pm

    Until 1974 water was a local authority responsibility. Then water boards were created and later the Tories privatised them, giving them the right to money out of water companies without having to invest properly in them. OFWAT is a pathetic excuse for a regulator.
    Investment is needed, but stopping money going in dividends will go a good part of the way.
    Water is but the worst example of privatisation gone wrong. Rail is not much better and quite a proportion of that is effectively nationalised already.
    So, Ed needs to call clearly for renationalisation of water companies whether as nationalised companies or as public interest companies.
    And will those people telling us how bad public enterprise is, actually get some facts instead of regurgitating the Tory propaganda used to discredit nationalised companies prior to privatisation. British Rail used to be the ONLY form of transport to keep going in snow and ice in West Yorkshire when I worked in Rochdale. It was never stopped by ice on the points, leaves on the line, wrong kind of snow or fallen trees.
    Where I live much of the year, in Greece, water is run by the local council and it’s cheap. Investment is slow but sure and cuts in water supply, once common are now much rarer.
    Time to stand up against the private water companies (and rail companies too) and bring them back to what they should be, serving the public, not fleecing them

  • Ross O’Kelly 28th Mar '24 - 9:12pm

    On the subject of mega salaries for the allegedly brilliant ceos, if, Lord forfend, the entire boards of the FTSE 350 companies met a grizzly fate under a number 9 bus, I imagine a new cohort of smart, ambitious executives would take their place, and no one would notice any difference. The whole idea the these high earners are unique is fatuous. Have you noticed there always seem to be just enough around to fill the mega salary roles available ?

  • @Mick Taylor: Ice on railway points is a serious safety issue – nothing to do with whether a train company is publicly or privately owned. It’s not true that BR didn’t have issues: In fact, the phrase ‘wrong type of snow’ was coined in 1991 – in British Rail days, after a BR executive referred to the type of snow in an interview when trying to explain disruption to trains.
    If you want to stop money going in dividends, then you have no chance of the private sector investing, so the Government has to fund the entire cost of investments, and the Government has to take the entire risk of losing the money if the investment goes wrong. Further, without the profit motive, you run the risk of the company wasting money and generally becoming inefficient because it has no incentive not to if the Government is simply funding everything. If you’re comfortable with all that, then I guess you’ll choose nationalisation, but don’t kid yourself that that’s a panacea to solve all our problems. Back in the 1970s when the UK had lots of nationalised industries, most of them had a reputation for over-expensive shoddily produced products. That was one of the reasons so many people came to believe privatisation was the solution. The grass is always greener…. 😉
    As an aside, I would say that, by the early 1990s, BR had become a rare example of a nationalised industry that was actually very well run. But historically that was not the norm.

  • Simon R 28th Mar ’24 – 6:12pm…..@expats: “Investors have just ‘pulled the plug’ on half a billion pounds funding” To my mind that’s slightly misleading because it implies that investors have gone back on some previous commitment. As I understand it, they haven’t: Investors have simply declined to provide lots of their own money to invest in something new that they consider carries too much risk of losing that money vs. not enough return. And that’s reasonable: In a liberal society, there’s rightly no compulsion on people or organisations to invest in stuff that they don’t want to invest in……..

    Shareholders have said they WILL invest providing the regulations are reduced AND customers accept a 40% rise in bills…Sound like blackmail to me..

    If shareholders won’t invest on Ofwat terms why not let Thames Water go bankrupt; as can happen to any private company?..Shares are then worthless as share holders are last in line for any compensation..The government can make an offer to the insolvency practitioner and we have a Nationalised company at minimum cost..

    I can’t see shareholders accepting that situation so they will find the new rules on investment preferable…

  • @expats: How is that blackmail? It’s just business negotiation. Thames Water has asked investors to pay for upgrades to the water supply. The investors have told Thames Water what would make them willing to do so. That’s not blackmail.

    If you’re trying to sell me – say – your car for £10K, and I tell you I’ll buy it but ONLY if you reduce the price to £8K (because it’s not worth £10K to me), I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t say that’s blackmail. But in principle that’s exactly the same thing: Two sides negotiating what they are willing to spend and in what circumstances.

  • Simon R 29th Mar ’24 – 12:52pm..If the car was essential to me and the only one available I’d call it blackmail

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