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Ban water firm bonuses until sewage spills stop, urges Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have urged the UK government to ban bonuses for water company bosses until sewage offences are stopped. The bonuses are "obscene" given 1,000 sewage spills a day were recorded in 2021, the Lib Dems said.

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the UK government to ban bonuses for water company bosses until sewage offences are stopped.

The party’s analysis showed firms in England had paid executives nearly £27million in bonuses since 2020.

The Lib Dems describe the bonuses as, “obscene” given 372,000 sewage spills polluted our rivers in 2021.

The Environment Agency said the “state of our rivers is not in the condition we want”. However, the government has not backed the ban, but said it was taking urgent action to curb sewage discharges and to encourage water companies to spend more on better infrastructure. 

Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon accused the government of allowing the companies to dump sewage “while pocketing eye-watering bonuses amid a cost of living crisis”.

United Utilities, who were responsible for the most spills over 2020 and 2021, paid bonuses of nearly £6 million. Severn Trent awarded their execs £5.5 million in bonuses while dumping sewage 120,000 times. Meanwhile, Yorkshire Water, who dumped sewage 135,000 times, handed out bonuses of £3.3 million.

United Utilities declined to comment. On its website, the company said it had a “long-term ambition” to “eliminate pollution incidents”.

Severn Trent pointed to its plan to ensure no river in its catchment areas would be unhealthy because of its operations by 2030.

Water companies could face fines or criminal prosecutions after admitting possible illegal discharges into rivers and waterways.

Not a new concern

 Concerns of raw-sewage release have gained prevalence over the last year with Thames Water criticised after reporting a raw sewage release a day late over Christmas with some wild swimmers complaining of upset stomachs.

Last year there was  a major government investigation into more than 2,200 sewage treatment works spanning all water and sewerage companies in England.

As part of our Levelling Up the Conversation series, broadcasting some of the most important issues facing the world today, former MP for Wells and Somerset County Councillor, Tessa Munt talked extensively about the need to solve the problem of water conditions in the UK.

Alongside panel experts, she outlined that water companies are to blame for sewage runoff and they also possess the resources to fix it.

She said that this was a disgrace, that Wessex Water was “thinking about doing something about it” but that in the last ten years before 2019 Wessex Water had paid out £110 million to their shareholders but only £9 million was spent on sewage pollution.

She decried sewage ending up on the Somerset levels while shareholders are paid out from the water company as disgusting.

For more information about the Government’s thinking on sewage discharge watch our recent event in Taunton Somerset.

Much stronger action

Green Party peer Jenny Jones insisted, “much stronger action” was needed from the Government to tackle the “sewage dumping scandal”.

She called for water companies to be brought back into public ownership to ensure “proper accountability”, but in the meantime, introduce a “much tougher watchdog…to properly enforce the protection of our rivers and coastlines with heavy fines on companies that continue to carelessly pollute them.”

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