Scotland

SNP scraps 'limited' Scottish Water Bill

  • 11 November 2010
  • From the section Scotland

Ministers have scrapped current plans to revamp Scottish Water, saying the initial legislation was too limited.

The government wants to "evolve" the utility to an agency which would play a key role in driving the economy and protecting the environment.

Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson insisted the plan would move ahead, but said it would not be taken forward without "full consultation".

Opposition parties said the decision exposed the vision to be flawed.

The proposals for Scottish Water would see it gain more powers to make money and could, for example, sell expertise or generate renewables without a cost to the taxpayer.

The Scottish government has faced calls to save hundreds of millions of pounds by selling off or mutualising the utility but, under its plan, ministers say making the body "financially neutral" means the "success story" that is Scottish Water can be kept in public ownership.

Government 'admission'

Mr Stevenson told parliament: "We originally believed we could start the move of Scottish Water into a broader role with a very limited bill.

"However, as we reflected further on our vision for Scottish Water, it became clear we were at risk of underestimating the potential."

The minister said that, by consulting more widely, the contents of the planned Scottish Water Bill could be expanded through more "robust" legislation.

He told MSPs: "We decided last week that the present limited provision should be withdrawn."

Following the ministerial statement, the Liberal Democrat's Jeremy Purvis said the situation had "descended into farce".

He added: "We are told that the bill presented wasn't ambitious or imaginative enough, despite the SNP writing it.

"Either the bill was incompetent or the minister in charge was. This is an unedifying spectacle, given the SNP said this was the flagship bill of their final year in office."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who convenes the Holyrood committee which will scrutinise the bill, said: "The minister wants us to believe that legal competence is not an issue.

"If that's right, surely we're left with the question of ministerial competence."

Mr Harvie said committee members are "frustrated" at delays and cancellations to their programme because of the Bill's withdrawal.

Labour MSP Charlie Gordon accused ministers of overselling the bill, adding: "Pulling the plug on the draft legislation is an admission from this government that it was a back of a fag packet bill."

Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw said: "The first minister promised us 'not a revolution but an evolution'.

"What he did not promise was yet another false start. His government has had four years to formulate a convincing policy and has failed."

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