England’s most polluting water company gives £300 million to shareholders

Economy Environment Policy & Politics

England’s most polluting water company is handing more than £300 million to shareholders despite profits slumping by more than 25%.

It comes a day after Severn Trent announced it was paying its shareholders an increased dividend of £261 million. Earlier this month the Financial Times reported that Britain’s privatised water and sewage companies paid £1.4 billion in dividends to shareholders in 2022. This is almost triple the £540 million paid in 2021 and comes with rising bills for households and rising anger about sewage pollution in the country’s rivers and around its beaches and coastline.

Last week water companies in England apologised for repeated sewage spills with data showing there were an average of 824 every day making a total 301,091 spills. The companies pledged to spend £10 billion to upgrade England’s water and sewage system but customers will end up footing the cost through higher bills.

Data from the Environment Agency shows that United Utilities – which supplies water to around seven million people in the north-west – was the most polluting water company in England last year. Untied Utilities owned 10 of the 20 pipes spilling the most sewage in England in 2022. One pipe spilled sewage into the River Ellen, near the Lake District, for 7,000 hours, according to the data.

“United Utilities are making a mockery by destroying our precious lakes and rivers with sewage, all while handing out bumper dividends,” said Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson Tim Farron.

“The system is broken when their execs and shareholders are rewarded with millions of pounds for destroying the environment.”

Farron is calling on the government to demand answers from the water companies, adding: “This £300m should have been spent on preventing sewage polluting the Lake District and region’s rivers.”

Last month the Guardian revealed that United Utilities chief executive Steve Mogford cashed in shares worth £1.4 million before retiring on March 31.

Speaking at the time, Farron denounced the payout as a disgrace, saying: “As the sewage scandal runs on, top chiefs at water companies are racking up millions of pounds in bonuses.

“This is a disgrace. Water companies shouldn’t be allowed to get away with pumping thousands of hours of filthy sewage into our rivers and waterways. We need the Conservatives to stop sitting on their hands, tax water companies and end this scandal.”

Greenpeace UK’s Megan Corton Scott said: ““We are the only country in the world to fully privatise our national water supply. This gave monopoly powers to the water companies with no conspicuous accountability and little commercial incentive to do anything but collect bill payments.

“People have no choice but to give them their money in exchange for performance that is, frankly, well below bog standard.”

The Green party tweeted: “Harmful chemicals have been found in 81% of our rivers and lakes.

“Meanwhile, water companies want to put bills up to pay for the cleanup of their sewage dumping. We would stop all shareholder payouts in the short term and bring water companies back into public hands.”

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