Report Confirms That Consumers Are Paying Too Much For Water And That Regulator Is Allowing Private Equity Profiteering
The only way to stop this rip off is re-nationalisation of this natural monopoly and this has to be a top priority for the next Labour Party election manifesto says GMB.
GMB, the union for water workers, commented on a new report from Centre Forum which says that it is time to end reckless profiteering in the water industry and get a better deal for consumers. See copy of press release from Centre Forum.
Gary Smith GMB National Secretary for Utilities said “This report confirms what GMB has saying for years but our concerns have been dismissed.
The report finds:
· Since 2005 prices for water have been too high, more than required to run a decent service for customers whilst providing a reasonable return for investors;
· This has led to very high profits for water companies. These profits, which are funded out of consumer bills, have not been spent on improving customer service or for investing in infrastructure;
· Money has been transferred straight to shareholders who have seen extraordinary returns on their investment.
· Ofwat got things wrong in price reviews after 1999 by overestimating the cost of capital for water companies:
· The winners have been the shareholders who have used this extra revenue to borrow billions and transfer it out of the company through very large dividend payments. The losers are undoubtedly the public who are paying for it.Water workers are also the losers in there being less jobs, less pensions, lower pay and conditions and with more work outsourced to contractors and temporary staff.
· there are allegations of widespread tax avoidance;
· the level of corporate borrowing is becoming unsustainable;
· the ownership structure means that there is very little public accountability;
· most of the largest water companies are owned by private equity funds and there are no public meetings where management can be held to account;
· The ownership structures are murky to say the least with strings of companies dotted around the world’s island secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens;
· This ownership structure makes it difficult for the public to know what is going on with its water suppliers:
The claim that this rip off could not have been foreseen when this natural monopoly industry was privatised in 1989 is spurious.
It was known then that the multimillionaire elite in private equity target income streams from care homes, from pubs, water and other sectors to cover interest payments on vast borrowings. This has led to an £111 billion estimate that buyout companies in the UK will have to refinance over the next five years. There will be more insolvency.
The coalition government will do nothing to correct this as the people who organized this rip off in the water industry are their friends and financial backers.
The only way to stop this rip off is re-nationalisation of this natural monopoly and this has to be a top priority for the next Labour Party election manifesto.”
Contact Gary Smith 07710 618 909 or Mick Ainsley 07974 250 947 or Kamaljeet Jandu GMB National Officer for Equality 07956 237 178
Notes to editors. Copy of press release from Centre Forum
17 July 2013
It is time to end reckless profiteering in the water industry and get a better deal for consumers, a new report by CentreForum urges.
Backed by former Director-General of the water regulator Ofwat, Sir Ian Byatt, the report presents a devastating critique of water companies' financial activities since the turn of the century. It describes an opaque, overleveraged and poorly regulated industry that consistently places short term profit maximisation above the interests of consumers and taxpayers.
The report says that in the drive to deliver profits to shareholders water companies have set up offshore tax avoidance structures and borrowed excessively to the point where they are in danger of becoming too indebted to finance their own infrastructure improvements. The example it gives is Thames Water which has requested taxpayer support for its 'super sewer' project despite recording bumper profits over a number of years.
Overleveraging is considered to have had a knock on effect on consumers. The report says that water bills have crept up partly because debt servicing requirements make it difficult for companies and the regulator to cut prices. In addition Ofwat is said to have mistakenly overestimated companies' capital costs when setting price levels. This again has come at the expense of the consumer, the report argues.
The report makes a set of recommendations for the government, Ofwat and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee to implement. It urges amongst other things the imposition of a levy on 'highly geared' (overleveraged) water companies, as well as German style earnings stripping rules to prevent all companies from drawing excessive loans with the intention of avoiding tax.
The report also calls for greater corporate transparency at a time when most English water companies have passed into the hands of private equity funds. It says that Ofwat should impose London Stock Exchange disclosure requirements on non-stock market listed water companies, and require public disclosure of all intermediate holding companies and ultimate controlling companies.
Report author George Turner said:
"For years now customers have been paying too much for their water and shareholders have been running off with giant profits. This is unacceptable in an industry which is so fundamental to people's lives and where customers cannot chose their supplier."
"What is worse, excessive profits have come about through a weakening of the financial strength of companies built up over many years of public investment. It is now time for parliament and the regulator to demand better standards from the water industry."
Sir Ian Byatt, former Director-General of Ofwat, who wrote the foreword to the report, said:
"This report sets out the issues involved in the financing of investment in the water sector with great clarity, making them accessible to non-expert readers, while providing a set of well thought out suggestions for action both by parliament and the regulator."