Ofwat: Strategic Priorities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 9th June 2022.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade) 3:41 pm, 9th June 2022

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. I shall say more about resident engagement shortly.

To be fair to Thames Water, it has made efforts to deal with the smell and the mosquitoes. It is currently working through a programme of upgrading parts of the works, which should reduce some of the smells, and it has contracted specialists to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Neither nuisance is as bad as it has been during the time I have represented those residents. Nevertheless, councillors, residents’ representatives and I feel that we have to keep up the pressure through the Mogden residents liaison group that Thames Water convenes.

Other issues, apart from Mogden, have affected my constituents. There has been localised flooding: dirty water has shot out of toilets or out of inspection covers in their gardens. In some cases Thames Water have acted quickly and responsibly, but that has not always been the case. Residents have been passed from pillar to post when trying to obtain help and support, and an acknowledgement from Thames Water.

This takes us back to the wider issue of the culture of these privatised water companies. Billions of pounds are being paid out in dividends, but I wonder whether we are seeing the investment in crucial infrastructure that is so badly needed. Between the 1990s and the 2020s, Thames Water has seen a £6 million decrease in annual investment in waste water. That underinvestment is simply not fair to our constituents, who face the impact of it at first hand.

It is not just Thames Water, however. Analysis has found that the investment in waste water management has been slashed by £520 million. Like the DEFRA Committee, I was concerned to see a proposal that Ofwat should incentivise water companies to improve their environmental performance. Surely it should be doing that anyway, because it is the right thing to do.

There is a wider issue, beyond the environmental protection of our rivers. What role will Ofwat play in ensuring that new developments have the water infra- structure they need? Additionally, the Rivers Trust has raised the importance of ensuring that Ofwat plays a role in relation to climate change and net zero, as my hon. Friend Luke Pollard also helpfully explained.

My increasing fear is that as an MP I am seeing more and more examples of various regulatory bodies—whether it is Ofwat, Ofgem or the Financial Conduct Authority—that just do not seem to be acting with the urgency needed not only to protect consumers but to tackle the big issues facing our country over the next few decades. I sometimes wonder whether it is a deliberate policy of this Government to downplay the importance of regulators. Does this stem from their libertarian wing? All of us, particularly our children, feel that the planet and ourselves and our future generations lose out when the role of regulation is downplayed.