Thames Water deal is set to be hard to swallow
By Western Daily Press | Tuesday, December 03, 2013, 21:19
Wessex Water announced that they would keep their bills below inflation, but Thames Water says it wants to raise bills
Water bills across most of the West could go down in real terms for the rest of this decade – but there was growing anger in one unfortunate corner of the region, where residents are facing a rise in bills.
Wessex Water and most other water firms serving the West Country announced that they would keep their bills below inflation between 2015 and 2020, and that meant if inflation dropped to a low level, their bills could actually go down.
But for water customers living east of the watershed in south-east Gloucestershire and the eastern side of Wiltshire, their water firm is bucking the trend.
Thames Water said it wants to raise bills by more than ten per cent above inflation for five years running, to pay for a 'super-sewer' to be built underneath London. Hundreds of thousands of Thames Water customers from Fairford and Swindon to Marlborough and Pewsey will be asked to pay for a massive infrastructure project as much as 100 miles away.
One local MP called on Thames Water to drop their request, saying it was not good value for customers' money.
Thames are the UK's biggest water company, and last week announced pre-tax profits were up by almost a fifth in just the first six months of this year to £134.2 million.
Chief executive Martin Baggs said that seven out of ten customers of Thames Water said they found the plan 'acceptable' when they did customer surveys, and the firm needed a major injection of investment to upgrade the 150-year-old Victorian sewerage system underneath London.
"It is clear that bill increases are only acceptable if they are absolutely essential, but customers have told us to avoid storing up problems for the future," he said. "Our plan will deliver value for money on the things our customers have told us matter most."
Swindon MP Robert Buckland already opposed this year's bill increase for Thames Water.
He said: "I don't like the proposed increase, and Ofwat have already said it is not the way forward. To pay for a huge project in London, I don't see that as value for money for Swindon bill payers," he added.
Thames customers in Wiltshire will be looking enviously to neighbouring villages and towns slightly further west, where the Bath-based Wessex Water announced it was to cut bills by the second largest amount of any water company in the country.
It is proposing a six per cent reduction – with only Anglia Water's 8.4 per cent bigger.
The region's other major water company, Severn Trent, which serves much of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, is planning a 3.8 per cent drop, while South West Water will cut bills by 4.5 per cent in real terms.
Wessex Water chairman Colin Skellett said it had listened to customers.
"We plan to keep bill charges to below inflation for the next six years, so bills will go down in real terms, while at the same time we will continue investing in high standards of service for customers and the environment.
"Although our water and sewerage bills represent just over one per cent of average household expenditure, we recognise that the economic climate means some customers find it difficult to pay, which is why we plan to do even more to help those customers who are struggling to pay by extending our offering of social tariffs and our assistance programme tap – the most extensive range of affordability measures in the UK."
Ofwat chairman Jonson Cox said: "Ofwat challenged companies to listen carefully to their customers in preparing their plans.
"Our board made clear that current economic circumstances gave companies an opportunity to deliver falling bills in real terms over the coming five years while maintaining substantial ongoing investment," he added.