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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Bogs, Barnett and Baloney

Anyone who has ever lived in London could tell you that the water down there isn't good. In fact, as my old gran used to say, it's rank rotten. Tastes bad and leaves a nasty, scummy film in your cup or glass. No doubt, though, it's an urban myth that by the time you drink the capital's tap water, it's already been recycled seven times. I certainly hope so having lived there for 14 years.

So, I can understand that there is some need to overhaul what is one of the world's oldest sewerage and water systems. I don't doubt that the £4.1 billion recently agreed by the Coalition Government in Westminster is a true and accurate reflection of the costs involved. What I don't understand is why taxpayers are paying for it. That's taxpayers throughout the UK - including Scotland & Northern Ireland where water supply is still in public hands.

Perhaps I've missed something but wasn't the entire water industry in England and Wales privatised by the Tories more than twenty years ago?

In London, the new 'owners' of the former public utility were Thames Water.

Since then Thames Water have benefited from the Tory Government's 'write-off' of the industry's £4.95 billion debt at the time of privatisation; changed hands twice; faced criticism for endangering public health by cutting off those who couldn't pay; and substantially increased tariffs and profits yet failed to meet leakage targets (the current rate is about 670 megalitres per day).

So, when do new private owners of utilities become responsible for more than fleecing customers and counting profits? Why are they not paying for the infrastructure upgrades they've controlled for all this time?

Did the Tories sell off the water industry in contracts that still left the taxpayer holding the can for the infrastructure? If so, why? Aren't the Tories the 'business' party?

Is their 'Stronger Together, Weaker Apart' defence of the Union worth a damn if they continually squander our money by effectively giving it to the directors of private companies - whether that be water companies, train operators or banks?

Incidentally, as a capital investment programme for London this £4.1 billion 'payout' would also normally trigger Barnett Formula payments for similar projects in Wales, Northern Ireland and here in Scotland where our allocation would have been around £400 million. That, though, won't happen because of some Coalition legislative sleight of hand which introduced new laws last Wednesday and classified this as an emergency! Just so happened the law came into effect 24 hours before they hand this money over...

Another example of Cameron's 'Respect' agenda for Scotland.

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