6 June 2008

There was a debate in the House of Commons the other day about water usage and bills (Hansard 2 June 2008 column 614 onwards).

The main focus was on the high bills in the southwest and the especial difficulties that those on low income have in paying them. Linda Gilroy, a Labour MP from Plymouth who initiated the debate, put the context well: “too many people are struggling to pay bills that are unacceptably high. As things stand, the problem looks set to get worse.”

There was the usual nod to water meters which make people more aware of their water use and, according to Phil Woolas, the minister, reduce overall consumption by ten percent. However, I don’t see meters reducing prices as opposed to consumption in the long run as I explained in my previous water and sewerage post. Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, made the interesting point that metering benefited second-home owners by keeping their water usage bills low. Fairness is always complicated.

In the Commons there was a recital of small measures to help but no one seemed to have any effective major idea about getting to more affordable prices here (apart from the Libdem idea of a national equalisation scheme, in effect a subsidy of bills in Cornwall and the southwest by the rest of England, an idea which has its own problems as I outlined in my previous post). The (im)practicality of southwest customers breaking out of the geographic straitjacket into a genuine choice of supplier was not discussed.

I’m afraid it reminded me of HG Wells’s comment about the Fabians: piddling under the door and calling it the stream of progress. I think it’s obvious that customers in the southwest are stuffed: high bills and no choice in supplier. The problem of how to unstuff them is truly difficult. Phil Woolas said that “affordability continues to be a key concern of the government” which shows how desperately bereft of transformative ideas the government is.

Who’s to blame for our present position? Linda Gilroy put it crystal clearly when she spoke of “the botched privatisation by the Conservative government.” Indeed.

I repeat what I said before: it is time the Conservatives came up with some ideas for making better this situation that their party created. They keep very quiet about this problem and I think they aren’t going to volunteer a solution so let’s press them.

related posts

Can Cornwall’s water bills be cut? 6 June 2007

The water of affliction 2 October 2007