Dr Neil Hudson quizzed the prospective boss of water regulator Ofwat on how to hold water companies to account.
On 20th April, 2022, Dr Neil Hudson quizzed Iain Coucher, Defra’s preferred candidate for the chair of independent water regulator, Ofwat. The pre-appointment meeting was held by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which Dr Hudson is a member.
·Dr Hudson asked if Mr Coucher has the teeth to hold water companies to account over the unacceptable discharge of sewage in the nation’s rivers and lakes.
He also focussed on tackling the excessive bonuses for water company executives when they continued to pump raw sewage into the nation’s waterways, as well as how better to measure water quality so it is safe physiologically, biologically and epidemiologically for plants, animals and people.
·Iain Coucher has been named by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the Government’s preferred candidate for the role. He is former Chief Executive of Network Rail and, subsequently, Chief Executive of the Atomic Weapons Establishment.
Speaking afterwards Dr Neil Hudson said:
“Ultimately, the amount of sewage being discharged into our rivers and lakes by water companies is unacceptable. Therefore, this appointment is crucial as we need the new chair of Ofwat to take the issue seriously and hold water companies to account.
“I was pleased to sit alongside my EFRA committee colleagues, comprising of Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs and question Mr Coucher. I hope he understands that Ofwat must better regulate the water companies in the public interest so that our precious environment is protected.
“Already steps are being made. With strong measures laid out in the Environment Act, this is the first Government to ensure water companies reduce sewage discharges that cause harm to the environment and public health.
“One particular issue I raised was that of bonuses. For executives to be generously rewarded for polluting natural waterways, is a travesty.
“We have some of the most picturesque bodies of water in the world here in Penrith and The Border. From the majesty of Ullswater and Haweswater to the quaintness of the River Eden and South Tyne, I feel an important part of my role as an MP is being a steward for nature.
“While more needs to be done, I am confident the progressive reductions now being enforced mean
we can pass on the natural environment to future generations better than when we found it. Hopefully, having listened to the EFRA committee, the new chair of Ofwat will ensure they play their part in making this a reality.”
Selected questions from Dr Hudson in the EFRA committee:
“The Environment Agency has said that the second biggest cause of water pollution, is untreated sewage released by water companies and Ofwat have said that the current levels of storm overflow discharges into rivers cannot continue, and the water sector must tackle that. Now the Government has brought in strong measures in the new Environment Act to try to tackle this but how will Ofwat work with the Environment Agency, with Government, with the Office of Environmental Protection? To ensure that these unacceptable discharges actually stop?”
“Are you confident that Ofwat, the Government, Environment Agency, will have the teeth to hold these companies to account?”
“What about the payment of bonuses? Is there not something that you and your role can do to actually stop that process whereby people are being rewarded for failure. And we've got rivers having sewage outflows being put into them, and shareholders are awarding bonuses and, companies are awarding bonuses. That is not right. That's not fair in anyone's mind. So, what can you, I want to see how sharp your teeth are, yes you can remind them, but what does that mean?”