Water Companies: Leaks and Wastage

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

If he will make it his policy to publish an annual league table to assess water companies’ performance on tackling water (a) leaks and (b) wastage.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

If he will make it his policy to publish an annual league table to assess water companies’ performance on tackling water (a) leaks and (b) wastage.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am back—I would like to say by popular demand, but I am not sure about that.

Water company performance data, including on leakage, is already published annually on the DiscoverWater website, and companies provide data to the Environment Agency on water losses. I encourage hon. Members to visit the DiscoverWater website.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

This month’s Environment Agency report found that four out of the nine water companies are now rated as poor or requiring improvement—the worst result since 2011. Does the Minister agree that losing 3 billion litres of water a day through leakage is wholly unacceptable? Are her Government reconsidering the privatisation of water companies that have damaged the environment and left customers in my constituency with unaffordable bills?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Our 2018 water conservation report sets out an ambitious target of a 50% reduction in leakage by 2050. The water companies have made progress towards this, but quite clearly, they need to do a great deal more. On water quality, in our 25-year environment plan, we aim to bring three quarters of our waters as close to their natural state as possible. However, there is clearly a great deal more to do. I have met water companies recently to rattle the cage and raise the issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also meeting water companies soon to discuss the same issues.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I thank the Minister for that response, but daily losses through leakage did fall during the 1990s from 4.5 billion litres a day to 3 billion litres. That figure is still too high, and a recent report by the Public Accounts Committee stated that this reduction had been followed by

“a decade of complacency and inaction”.

Does the Minister agree that the Government are failing to hold the water companies to account over their inability to deal with this level of leakage?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman raises a pertinent point, but the 2019 price review set out a £51 billion five-year investment package, and water companies committed to reducing leakage by 16% by 2025. They have definite goals and targets to do that, but they do indeed need to do a great deal more. We also have much discussion about reducing the overall amount of water that people use every day, with an ambition to reduce it to 110 litres a person. At the moment, it is about 143 litres, so there is a raft of measures in the water space that need to be tackled.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

A study by the National Audit Office shows that some parts of England will run out of water by 2040. Does the Minister agree that the targets set by the Department to cut water leakage in half by 2050 will be too little, too late to keep our taps running?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have already mentioned that target of a 50% leakage reduction, but that is just one of many measures. There is a whole raft of measures, as I have just explained, that we are working towards. We have the policies in place not just to reduce leakage, but to reduce consumption in an efficient way, always being mindful of consumers’ bills and always looking after the vulnerable. On top of all that, we have our flood policy statement, which looks very closely at the whole water space—where the water comes from, where it is going, where the supply is and where the reservoirs are. The Government are absolutely on the case as far as water is concerned.