CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer wants water supply to be run by ‘common ownership’

Thames Water says shareholders have not received a dividend for four years

25 July, 2021 — By Tom Foot

Sir Keir Starmer and flooding in South End Green [flood photo: Max Leach]

LABOUR party leader Sir Keir Starmer has signalled he supports the nationalisation of water utilities as the fallout from the floods continues.

With residents and businesses demanding answers as to what went wrong last Monday night, when parts of Camden saw river-like streets and swamped homes, the Holborn and St Pancras MP indicated he believes “common ownership” would be the way forward.

Nationalising Thames Water had been a key plank of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party policy during his time in charge of the party.

His aim was to bring the water service back in-house after what he said had been years of failures despite tens of millions wasted on excessive pay rises for executives and dividend payouts to shareholders.

Thames Water says it was powerless to stop the damage caused by the flash flood, which affected parts of Chalk Farm, Primrose Hill, Belsize Park, Swiss Cottage and Hampstead.

The profit-making company said the drainage systems are incapable of dealing with the volume of rain that fell in what was described as “major incident”.

Journalist Jody Thompson saw her home in West End Lane, Kilburn, completely destroyed. After losing personal items, including love letters between her late parents, she said: “Absolutely it should be state-owned. I mean, they [the water companies] have a monopoly. I can’t choose to go to another company if their service is crap.

“They’ve had 30 years running this and they clearly haven’t anywhere near enough in infrastructure and, meanwhile, the fat cats are creaming off the money instead.

“It’s bloody outrageous that people can make such disgusting profits out of a necessity as basic as water and basic sanitary provisions.”

She added: “30 years they’ve been in charge of our sewers and they know the system can’t cope with heavy rain? I’m sorry but we’ve had heavy rain many times before in the 21 years I’ve lived in my flat.”

While Camden Council are responsible for cleaning the gulleys of drains in the road – the Town Hall was facing questions last week over how often this is done – it is Thames Water that is in control of London’s mains.

The New Journal asked Mr Starmer what should happen now. “Water should be run in the best interests of the environment and consumers – not shareholders,” a spokesperson for the Holborn and St Pancras MP and party leader said. “Labour believe that common ownership can deliver that.”

Responding to the question of nationalisa­tion, a Thames Water spokeswoman questioned whether a government would properly prioritise a publicly-run water service.

A statement added: “Investment is at record levels and far higher than pre-privatisation. Our external shareholders haven’t received a dividend for four years and we’ve invested around £20 billion over the last 20 years.”

Phil Wilson, who lives in Gospel Oak, believes the drainage system is no longer fit for purpose.

He said: “Many of the open streams of centuries gone by are now channelled into main drains. “The River Fleet I believe is now under Southampton Road. When the storm water completely fills the main drainage system there is a back-up from side-drains and endangered homes nearby are often flooded with a mix of storm water and sewage.

“This is a completely unacceptable public health risk.”

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