Northern Ireland: Water privatisation

THE NORTHERN Ireland Office has started the process to privatise the water services in Northern Ireland. Why?

One excuse is that the water service here needs large-scale investment. In 1992 an Asset Management Plan estimated that there was a backlog of £460 million in necessary repairs, upgrades, etc. In addition it estimated that over 20 years (1992-2012) that £3,000 million more was required.

The fact that the government had failed to provide the necessary investment over decades is somehow missed in the report. The fact that some of the Belfast sewage system is Victorian is due to government failure.

The government has called for a ’consultation process’ to look at the future of the system. This is despite the fact that the government has decided that the Water Service ’will in future need to move away from direct central government control’, p24 of the Consultation Document, Water Reform Northern Ireland.

Among the smooth lies and omissions glided over in this document is the line from p26. A privatised firm ’would have a significant impact for staff’, the significant impact is not outlined but recently the papers carried reports of 600 layoffs.

The reality is that the whole system will be prepared for privatisation by the government. Charges will be brought in, debts written off, staff laid off, all to make the system profitable for big business.

The Consultation Document does present an option of a Not for Dividend Company, citing Glas Cymru, but admits that this is ’in fact, essentially a private sector business model.’

Another option, Public Private partnerships, expects it to ’outsource aspects of the management of services’, in other words cuts in staff. Another option is to keep the expensive upkeep of the pipelines, etc. in the public hands, while the operations are privatised. This could be good for business, big business gets the profits, the public gets the expenses.

The bottom line is that this Consultation Document is like a loaded dice. The government has it’s conclusions made, now it has to pretend to ask the public for it’s opinion. Would we like to be mugged or robbed? But at least we’re asked!! The NIO talks of raising our costs to an average of £445 per household to a £1,000 a year.

We believe that a campaign against the proposed plans must be brought in. We will call for a campaign of non-payment of these charges.

A non payment campaign will face pressure from government legislation to force payments, similar to the Payment for Debt Act introduced by the SDLP in the 1970’s. Despite these laws a serious campaign could force the money grabbers to back off.

Protests at the consultation meetings, pickets of the money grabbers offices, and non payment, that’s what’s needed, not private water. Page 1 of the Document starts with the line; ’Clean drinking water and effective sewerage services are critical to public health’, that’s true, and it must be kept free.

From Socialist Voice, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in Ireland

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May 2003