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Stemming the tide or just a finger in the dyke? Will South West water bills really come down for good?

Martyn Oates | 15:29 UK time, Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Tap and running water

The Government's long-awaited consultation on water charges - now underway - basically confirms much of what we knew already.

Crucial for the South West is the extra government money to help water customers in Devon and Cornwall, announced so dramatically by the Chancellor in his Budget speech.

The consultation document confirms that the figure involved is indeed an annual payment of £40m (as helpfully leaked by St Ives MP Andrew George just before the Chancellor stood up on Budget day).

And, as correctly calculated by journalists two weeks ago, this would mean an average reduction of £50 in our water bills if applied equally across the board.

But the consultation document introduces a new element of uncertainty as to whether this will happen at all. And if so, for how long?

It's obviously in the nature of consultation documents to open a up a range of possibilities.

But the small print of this particular document is causing more jitters than might have been anticipated.

The final chapter - ostensibly devoted exclusively to the South West - poses this question to the consultee:

"What balance should the Government strike between using public expenditure to assist all households in the South West and providing assistance to low income households with water affordability problems, both inside and outside the South West?"

Another paragraph reads:

"The Government is clear that the option of a one-off financial injection of around £700 million of taxpayers' money into the South West to reduce the bills of all households by about £50 a year in perpetuity is unaffordable."

Part of this is old news: nobody was expecting a one-off payment. But a lot of people were hoping for a solution in perpetuity, albeit paid for in instalments.

Yet another passage in a similar vein underlines this uncertainty:

"We will need to consider how long any additional public expenditure should be provided for and how future changes in bills inside and outside the South West should be taken account of."

There is no doubt this Government has gone further than any of its predecessors in addressing the cost of water in the South West.

But it's still far from clear that we're on the brink of a solution which will draw a line under the whole 20-year-long saga.

You can read the consultation document here:


  • Comment number 1.

    Martyn - can we finally knock on the head the ridiculous figures given out as the average water bill in the South West (to get the figures quoted the lowest must be really low, and the highest ignored!!).

    We are a family of 4 (2 adults / 2 children) in a typical Band C property in Truro, and our water bill is £971 p.a. Using the SWW "estimate water savings" on their website it comes out as a total bill of £1344 p.a. i.e. an increase of £373 p.a., so not exactly the much vaunted "saving" by using a meter!!

    I wouldn't consider our usage extravagant, we do all need to use the loo, and have our clothes washed as well as the odd bath or two!! We find it a struggle paying the £971, let alone a projected £1344. So how much are the Band D, and above, householders being charged? And to make it even worse the figures quoted on the SWW website are based on their 2010/2011 charging tariff, and not the 2011/2012 figures they are billing me against!!

    Compare your own bill against the meter estimate if you don't have a meter installed and see what it comes up with?

    "And, as correctly calculated by journalists two weeks ago, this would mean an average reduction of £50 in our water bills if applied equally across the board." won't make much difference to me spread out at £5 pcm over the 10 billing months!!

    I thought that "Clean Sweep" was over, so why are the bill's still so high!!

    Consumer choice - I can shop at Tesco/Asda/Sainsbury's etc., obtain my electricity and gas from EDF/E-on/British Gas etc., but we are stuck with SWW, and if we had a choice who would be daft enough to pay their prices!!


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