Scotland’s public water service continues to deliver

Scotland’s public water service continues to deliver high levels of investment with charge increases below the rate of inflation. However, they persist in disowning their public corporation status and we the consumer continue to waste £millions on bottled water

Scottish Water has published capital investment plans totalling £3.5bn for the period 2015 to 2021. The overall cost of delivering the plan will be £8bn. met by customer charges of £7bn and net new government borrowing of £720m. There will be a fixed nominal annual price increase of 1.6% for the years 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18. Well below the rate of inflation.

Scottish Water said: “We expect that our future capital investment requirements will remain around £500 million per annum (in 2012/13 prices) as a result of increasing capital maintenance requirements and ongoing investment to improve services to meet customers’ expectations in areas of water supply resilience and prevention of flooding from sewers.”

These plans show the continuing benefits of having a public water service in Scotland that doesn’t have to fund private profit. Not that you would recognise that from Scottish Water publications that talk about being a trusted ‘business’, rather than a public service. Scottish Water subsidiary, Business Stream talks about customers cutting £36 million from their consumption-related water bills due to the introduction of competition. This is simply nonsense, what’s happened is that ‘customers’ have been helped to invest in water efficiency measures – nothing to do with competition.

Despite getting high quality water from the tap, the UK market for bottled water is now worth £1.6 billion per year and Britons drink more bottled water than fruit juices or wines and spirits. Consumption per person exceeded 34 litres in 2012, up from 26.9 litres in 2001 and is set to reach 40 litres per person by the end of the decade.

Given the fact that UK tap water is widely considered to better for you than the bottled variety and subject to more stringent safety checks, why do we insist on purchasing something which is up to 300 times more expensive than what comes out of our taps?

It is of course a triumph of marketing over common sense, but with a big environmental kick. Plastic bottles add massively to pollution and clog up landfill sites. Professor Paul Younger puts it well, “The bottled water industry is very largely a scam, and a very expensive one at that, in terms of both money and extravagant carbon footprint.”

So let’s celebrate our public water service even if Scottish Water dreams of privatisation. We might also drink more of it and help the environment at the same time.

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