Recently, I’ve been asked what actions I intend to take regarding the alarming issue of sewage being dumped on the East Durham Coastline. It’s a pressing concern, and the unfortunate reality is that unless we address it decisively, the situation is only set to worsen.

The sewage crisis plaguing our region is a long-standing problem rooted in the privatisation of a critical industry. My preferred option is nationalisation of the water sector, accompanied by substantial investments in infrastructure, and a dedicated effort to eliminate the discharge of raw sewage into our rivers and seas.

Disposing of sewage through overflows should only happen in the most rare and exceptional circumstances when the system becomes overwhelmed. However, the alarming truth is that the dumping of raw sewage has become an all-too-familiar aspect of our water industry, and is a legacy of a failure to invest.

Water companies have consistently failed to invest in our infrastructure, while at the same time enjoying debt-fuelled profits with hefty shareholder dividends and excessive corporate pay. Privatisation has failed and hasn’t translated into lower bills or improved services for the public; instead, it has exposed taxpayers to substantial liabilities should these companies falter.

Acknowledging that neither the Conservative nor Labour parties are inclined to nationalise water, I firmly believe that robust regulation is the only viable solution due to the monopolistic nature of the industry and its inability to foster competition and consumer choice. In my view, this should encompass the following measures:

1. No Consumer Bill Increases: Consumers should not bear the burden of financing infrastructure that water companies have failed to adequately maintain or upgrade since privatisation.

2. Shareholder Dividend Ban: Shareholder dividend payments should be suspended until:
a. Infrastructure reaches a capacity that eliminates sewage discharges.
b. Water companies settle the debts accumulated since privatisation.
c. Consumer bills see real-term reductions.

3. Executive Pay Caps: Until all of the objectives in 2a, 2b, and 2c are met, executive pay, bonuses, and incentives should be capped and linked to public sector equivalents.

Private water companies have been rewarded for their failures, and it’s within the government’s power to put an end to these practices. The promise of privatisation was better services and lower bills through competition and the free market’s power. However, all too often, when it comes to public services, it’s the taxpayers who bear all the risks, while the companies reap all the benefits.

When an inevitable crisis arises, these companies shirk their responsibilities, having already pocketed their profits, leaving taxpayers with the daunting task of cleaning up their mess – quite literally, in the case of sewage.

I will continue to advocate for change, pressing the government to implement the policies needed to secure the positive changes we all want to see. This is non-negotiable, the failure of water companies affects our whole community and economy, especially as we try to create a tourism economy and attract people to the water sports opportunity on the East Durham Coast.

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