Neil Clark has written in the Guardian about English private-water companies raising rates by as much as 8.2 per cent in 2012, while there was no price increase at all in Scotland. Why? “While England’s water industry was sold off to the private sector by the Conservative government in 1989, Scotland’s stayed in full public ownership. Scottish Water, with no pressure to provide dividends to shareholders or reward wealthy investors, not only charges lower prices to its users than English companies, it has also recently announced that its price freeze, introduced in 2009, will continue for a fourth successive year.”
He concludes, “Bringing water back into public ownership in England – which could be done by the government simply nationalising the existing companies and establishing a new publicly owned body named ‘English Water’, would not only lead to lower prices, but would be a move of great significance. …Water, which falls out of the sky for free and which everyone needs, was obscenely commodified by the Thatcherites. You don’t even have to be a Marxist to agree that there is something fundamentally wrong about water being sold off in order for global conglomerates to make even more profits from hard-pressed ordinary people. Action to end England’s great water rip-off urgently needs to be taken.”
We agree. And it is notable that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owns 27 per cent of Northumbrian Water Group Plc, which sells its water services to about 4.4 million ‘customers’ in England. Also, the Canada Pension Plan owns one-third of Anglian Water Services, which sells water services to approximately six million people in England.
Now, what if a future government in the UK decided to remunicipalize the water services privatized by Thatcher as convincingly argued by Clark? With the investor-state provision in the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, these Canadian pension fund investors would be in a position to sue for lost profits. And their profits are substantial. In 2011, Northumbrian posted a pre-tax profit of $297 million while Anglian saw a profit of $507 million.
CETA would hurt the public interest in Europe and that is why people on both sides of the Atlantic are working to stop its ratification.