UNISON demands Thames Water answers

Christina McAnea questions how the near financial collapse of Thames Water was allowed to happen and calls for renationalisation of the water industry

old-fashioned tap with water running from it

UNISON’s general secretary Christina McAnea has written to two major figures in the regulation of the water industry about the reported financial mismanagement of Thames Water.

The company, which supplies water to a quarter of the country’s population, has been making headlines over recent weeks after coming under intense scrutiny over its performance and about its financial performance, including reports that it is currently £14bn in debt and on the verge of financial collapse.

Writing to the head of Ofwat David Black, the union’s general secretary asked for clarity about how the situation with Thames Water was allowed to happen and what they are doing about the issue.

She highlighted: “The privatisation of the water companies has systematically failed to deliver for the public, and UNISON is concerned that Ofwat has contributed to the current situation where our water industry is on the verge of collapse whilst under your watch.”

In calling for an urgent meeting with Mr Black, Ms McAnea added: “Everyone relies on employees in the water industry to do critical work, including emergency responses, and any collapse will have a huge impact on employees and on the public.”

Earlier this week Ms McAnea also wrote to the secretary of state for Defra, Thérèse Coffey, requesting an urgent meeting to ensure that the department will learn the lessons from Thames Water and respond accordingly to similar issues across the water industry. This is due to reports that Thames water may not be the only water company facing significant financial difficulties.

She wrote: “It’s clear now, that water companies operate regional monopolies that do not serve the best interests of the communities they serve.

“Renationalisation needs to take place urgently to protect our water security and our communities, and UNISON members must be given a guarantee that they will have job security should the company be nationalised.”

Last week, it was also reported that the government is considering bringing Thames Water temporarily back into public ownership.

Commenting on those reports, UNISON’s national secretary for water, energy and transport, Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “The regulator has been asleep at the wheel. The owners of Thames Water have borrowed billions, yet downed every drop of profit, racked up gigantic debts and rewarded the poor performance of senior directors with huge salaries.

“Profits should have no place in public services. A short-term fix to bail out Thames Water won’t be enough. The government should restore the water companies to public ownership for the good of everyone.”