Ofwat: Strategic Priorities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 9th June 2022.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:23 pm, 9th June 2022

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising social tariffs. We need the proper legislative framework and nationwide approach for which I think she has been arguing for some time. We must look at how social tariff versions vary between water companies, which affects people who move between different water companies. We must also ensure that water poverty is properly understood as a key part of the cost of living crisis. Far too frequently, I find that this type of poverty, which belongs to DEFRA, is separated in Government thinking and leadership from those types that belong to the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We need to ensure that the Government look at this area holistically across all Departments and do not allow a silo-based approach. There is merit in what she suggests, and I would like to see further action on it.

One of those points which, joined up, could make a big difference is on housing retrofit. The Government’s record on housing retrofit is appalling—I think on both sides of the House we need Ministers to consistently go further—but when BEIS proposed measures to insulate homes, they related only to energy and gas reduction, not reducing water usage. Every single drop of water is expensive environmentally and financially, so that is very important. I would like the next iteration of housing retrofit policy proposed by Government to include water with the gas and electricity measures.

On decarbonisation, the SPS misses a trick. It could have gone further by insisting that water is genuinely decarbonised, rather than relying on an incredibly large amount of offset to hit the 2030 net zero target. I would like the 2030 target to be more commonly adopted, but simply buying offset and loading the cost on to bill payers does not actually deliver the carbon reduction we need. I want every water company to be an energy company, using its land to install solar, onshore wind and other types of energy to reduce the energy intensity and carbon intensity of its own operations. That should have been in the SPS and it should be in business plans, but it seems to have fallen between those. Indeed, the language on pushing or challenging water companies to, as the SPS suggests, invest more in decarbonising the sector could be a bit tighter. I would like to see in the proposals what it actually means in practice.

The proposal to halve leakage by 2050 is welcome, but the problem is that 2050 is a very long time away. I would like to see how much leakage reduction will be in the next price review period and how it can be accountable to others. The target of 110 litres a day is not enough. I would like to see us aim at 100 litres a day. Water companies around the country are achieving that, but we do not have enough water to go slow and we need to achieve that.

Nature restoration needs to go further. I want the policies in the SPS to integrate with the policies proposed for environmental land management and farm management. At the moment, they do not seem to have joined up in the way we need them to. If we are to have the bolder change we need, we need a greater level of joined-up thinking on that issue.

The Environment Agency has been raised by colleagues on the Government Benches. I am not a fan of the Environment Agency. I would like to see it go further. In the middle of an environmental crisis as we are, all too frequently it is too passive, too pastel shade. I would like to see it being a bit more “Grrr”—good luck, Hansard, in writing that one down.