Southern Water needs to back up its words with action

Posted On 05 Feb 2023 at 7:59 pm

Regular readers of my columns will know that I’m not shy about calling out Southern Water for their persistent and flagrant pollution of our seas and rivers with sewage discharges.

We’ve heard plenty of empty promises and now we need action, not just words.

My Labour colleague and chair of the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Clare Moonan, has repeatedly asked the chief executive of Southern Water to attend committee meetings to be held to account.

Yet the chief executive has ducked scrutiny twice, sending other Southern Water representatives in his place.

In 2021, Southern Water was fined £90 million having been found guilty of deliberately dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into our seas over several years – but the dumping has continued since.

Are we at least receiving healthy tax receipts from these megalith private water companies who deliver a basic public utility, you might ask?

Well, according to The Guardian, foreign investment firms, private equity, pension funds and businesses lodged in tax havens own more than 70 per cent of the water industry in England, and there is little transparency and accountability.

Their investigation found: “More than three decades after the sector was sold off with a promise to the public they would become individual small shareholders or ‘H2Owners’, control of the water industry has become dominated by overseas investment vehicles, the super-rich, companies in tax havens and pension fund investors.”

The case for bringing the water companies back into public ownership has never been stronger. Until that happens, we are continuing in our efforts to hold Southern Water to account for their persistent polluting.

One idea floated at the most recent Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting was that Southern Water could and should start compensating the people of Brighton and Hove for the repeated sewage discharges and threats to our collective public health by funding our public toilets.

As you’ll be aware, Labour councillors have been campaigning alongside residents for the reopening of public toilets across the city and opposing the Green administration’s plans for additional closures.

We believe that despite the dire state of our council finances after 13 years of savage Tory cuts and the Green Party’s vanity projects like the i360, there is room in the budget to keep public toilets open for the good of public health, wellbeing, equalities, local businesses and our tourism economy.

We are hopeful that the Greens are now at least starting to see some sense after recently U-turning on their budget plans.

On other matters, Unite the union’s Get Me Home Safely campaign calls on employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure workers can get home safely from work at night without fear of sexual assault and harassment.

Shift work is widespread in our city, particularly in hospitality, as well as health and care, retail, cleaning and security. Many workers, particularly women, are becoming increasingly concerned about their safety travelling to and from work late at night and very early morning.

While employers may feel their duty of care to staff ends when an employee finishes a shift, they also need to take into consideration journeys home, especially during unsocial hours.

I was very pleased that Labour’s Councillor Nancy Platts successfully persuaded the full council on Thursday to agree to bring a report on options for a council policy and powers for the Licensing Committee (as introduced by other councils across the country) to ensure that the process for approving late-night licences is linked to the provision of free transport home.

Councillor John Allcock is the joint Labour opposition leader on Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Casper Reply

    Asking Southern Water to pick up the bill for public toilets was the idea of Green Party councillor, Zoe John. I know Labour ran out of ideas a long time ago but this is pathetic.

  2. Gus Garside Reply

    It was, in fact, the Green Party who approached Southern Water CEO with this idea

  3. Max Reply

    And didn’t Labour first say they wouldn’t reinvite Southern’s CEO and only agreed to do so after being pushed by Green councillors?

  4. Peter Challis Reply

    Have there been any sewage discharges in Brighton and Hove since the Portobello scheme was implemented?

    Isn’t the real problem Greens wanting to close ore public toilets as they are useless at budgeting?

    Why should Southern Water fund council incompetence?

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