CAN CORNWALL’S WATER BILLS BE CUT?

6 June 2007

Once more there are complaints about the prices charged for the provision of water and sewerage services in Cornwall.

Now much of the westcountry has the highest water/sewage bills in England. The privatisation of water supply and sewage disposal by the Tories left us served by a monopoly with no competition and no choice for customers; that, a weak regulation scheme, stringent EU rules for a clean up of the water and our many beaches, and an energetic improvement program by the water company have kept prices high.

It is unfair on people here but could it feasibly be made fairer? Renationalisation is out as too costly and it wouldn’t necessarily reduce the price to customers but an alternative is to equalise charges across the whole country, that is across England or across England and Wales. People in Cornwall and other high-charge areas pay less, people in low-charge areas pay more.

The latest profits annual profits of the water and sewerage company, South West Water, which serves much of the westcountry not just Cornwall, were £156.8 million and these have prompted the Liberal Democrats to call again for an equalisation scheme.

I agree with equalisation; but there are some difficulties.

The Libdems make their call for an equalisation scheme here in Cornwall where bills would go down. They do not, as far as I am aware, point out to people in other places that their bills will go up. I’d like to see this equalisation argument made in those other places, and especially where there is a Libdem MP or council. I have made a similar point in the post about increasing education spending in Cornwall.

It would be interesting to make the argument in Wales also and see what people there think of having higher bills so that Cornwall and Devon (and parts of Dorset and Somerset) could have lower ones.

It is hard to tell people in areas where there are water restrictions that, nevertheless, they must pay more in order to be fair to people in the westcountry. Has anyone tried it?

For those who support Cornish nationalism, who want the constricting reins of the Westminster parliament off Cornish backs, who want Cornwall standing on its own feet, an all-England water policy is frankly incoherent, an ad hoc device to meet a local problem not part of an organised philosophy. Of course one can argue for both local devolution and subsidies from people from elsewhere; but it isn’t convincing. It looks like, Give me your money and go away. However, since Cornish economic nationalism seems to see a devolved Cornwall as another Barnett-dependency perhaps this incoherence doesn’t disturb.

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