Cordoned off street as water flows from a burst water main

UK water leakage could ‘fill Loch Ness’, says Labour

Image credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Calling for renationalisation of the water industry, Labour has said that the amount of water lost to leaks in the UK’s infrastructure over the last seven years would fill up Loch Ness.

Recent estimates from the Consumer Council for Water have shown that more than 20 per cent of water is lost through leakages - approximately 3.1 billion litres of water every day. 

In total, this adds up to 7.5 trillion litres wasted between 2010 and 2017.

Labour pointed to information released by the National Audit Office that said average household bills for water and sewerage had risen by 40 per cent in real terms since privatisation in 1989.

Meanwhile, the party said its analysis of figures released by the industry watchdog Ofwat showed the value of water companies for shareholders had almost quadrupled over the same period.

“Thanks to the failures of privatised water companies, our water infrastructure is crumbling and people are forced to pay through the nose for services,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

“Water should be provided for public good, not private profit. Under Labour’s plans to bring our water system into public ownership, profits will be reinvested so that households across the UK have better services and lower bills.”

Various technologies and research projects are under way to improve leak detection including a system using drones and camera sensing technology to determine where leaks are occurring.

Coca Cola has also pioneered an AI system that can reduce leakage through finely controlling the water pressure. 

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “These figures show that the current water system is broken. It cannot be right that private companies are ballooning in value while customers pay the price in poor services and rising bills.

“These companies operate regional monopolies, giving customers no choice in who supplies their water. Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly-owned water companies.

“Surplus profits will be reinvested in improving vital infrastructure and reducing customer bills.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Water companies must improve their performance, but Labour’s ideological re-nationalisation is not the answer.

“I’ve said companies must concentrate on providing a good service for customers rather than financial engineering and high executive pay. Thanks to our pressure, water companies have pledged to cut bills, increase investment and reduce leakage.

“We will be holding them to their promises.”

A Water UK spokesman said: “Leakage was much higher when the industry was owned and run by the government - about 30 per cent, so that’s Loch Ness and Lake Windermere together.

“Yes, bills went up in the first few years following privatisation to help deal with decades of under-investment when the industry was run by the government, when it was so bad that we were known as the ‘Dirty Man of Europe’, but the average domestic bill has stayed pretty much the same in real terms since the mid-90s. And now bills are set to fall.

“While companies have just announced plans to invest an extra £10bn a year to improve the water network and cut bills in real terms - all based on what millions of customers said they wanted - no-one has come up with a realistic alternative.

“With the huge financial and practical challenges the industry faces due to climate change and an increasing population, it doesn’t make sense for water companies to be bought and run by the government, having to fight for taxpayers’ money every year in competition with the health service and schools.”

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