Water is a public good, not a commodity. Today there will be a hearing in the European Parliament on the European Citizens Initiative – Right to Water. You can watch the debate live online.
Nearly two million people signed this initiative across Europe. It invites the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation as recognised by the United Nations, and promoting the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all. The EU legislation should require governments to ensure and to provide all citizens with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. In particular, it wants water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.
This is particularly important in Scotland because we escaped the privatisation of water and sewerage services that happened in England and Wales. However, that doesn’t mean that the threat to our public service isn’t very real. Powerful commercial interests continue to lobby for privatisation, or the Trojan horse of mutualisation in Scotland. EU rules will be used as another excuse to pursue their agenda.
The private sector already has a foothold in Scotland through PPP/PFI schemes and contractor partnerships. Scottish Water has recently unveiled a six-year £700million infrastructure partnership with four major companies, two of them US-based, to deliver its £500m-a-year capital programme. Further privatisation through the backdoor.
Scottish Water is also regulated in Scotland as if it was a private utility. This not only ignores the public service function, but also adds extra costs onto the consumer. This is clearly set out in the latest paper by Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, published by the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Current cost pricing results in excess profits and overcharging across the water industry and parts of the energy sector as well.
Campaigning against the privatisation of Scottish Water doesn’t mean clinging to the status quo. In UNISON Scotland’s paper 'It's Scotland's Water' we highlight other public service models that demonstrate that a more democratic structure can deliver a more efficient, socially responsible and more accountable public water service. We can develop more democratic forms of ownership that ensure there is a focus on the issues that matter to the public like leaks, repairs and water quality. Not creating an artificial market that concentrates on profit rather than service.