Government ‘too slow’ implementing flood measures

MPs have welcomed the Government's plans for more competition in the water market but say more urgency is needed to improve resilience and flood prevention.

A report on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Water Bill published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee claims the Government had been “too slow” to implement changes that would protect homes and businesses from the shattering effects of flooding. 

Committee Chair Anne McIntosh called on the Government to speed up the implementation of measures that would reduce flooding – many of which, she pointed out, had been recommended nearly five years ago.

“Widespread flooding has once again wrought devastation and heartache in communities across the country, including in my constituency. Solutions that would reduce the impact of flooding are out there and would make a difference but successive governments have not had the mettle to put them into practice,” she said.

In welcoming the opportunities for greater competition within the retail water sector, the MPs asked the government to make amendments that would ensure householders are protected.

However, the report concludes that the Government needs to undertake further work before embarking on “upstream” competition, which would enable companies to compete in the supply of water.

The MPs are concerned that the Draft Bill contains only a broad framework and leaves too much important detail to be decided by the regulator, Ofwat.

In addition, they are worried that details could be introduced through secondary legislation and will therefore receive less parliamentary scrutiny.

McIntosh said: “The lack of detail in the legislation leads to uncertainty for investors which could result in higher financing costs for water companies and higher water bills for customers.

“We want the Government to put enough meat into this legislation that investors and water companies can have the confidence to invest. We want to see provisions in the legislation that protect consumers and we do not accept the Government’s arguments that those protections would undermine investors’ confidence in the water industry.”

Ofwat welcomed the report as “thoughtful” and “detailed” and agreed that all parties now had to work on how the upstream arrangements can work in practice.

In the report, MPs recommend that encouraging sustainable development should be elevated to a primary duty of the regulator and that the Government brings forward legislation to enable the abstraction regime to be reformed by 2022.

In addition, they recommend the implementation of existing provisions on bad debt and encouraging greater use of water meters, both of which would lower customers’ water bills.

Conor McGlone

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