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Labour promises public ownership of U.K. water companies owned by Canadian pension funds

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

The Labour Party in the United Kingdom has promised to bring water services back under public ownership if they win the June 8 election.

The Independent reports, “Water was privatised by the Margaret Thatcher government in 1989, moving from the ten public regional water authorities to a system of private companies. The pledge comes just over a month after Thames Water was fined £20 million for pumping 1.9 billion litres of raw sewage into the River Thames.”

The BBC adds, “The industry would be taken into public ownership either by simply buying the shares of the existing companies or by a compulsory measure whereby companies would have to be given government bonds in exchange for the shares.”

The party supports nationalization to address sharp rises in water rates and tax avoidance by water companies.

Public Citizen explains, “On average, prices rose by over 50 per cent in the first 4 years [after Thatcher privatized the water authorities]… The real value of the fees, salaries and bonuses paid to the director’s increased between 50 per cent and 200 per cent in most water companies…The profits of the 10 water companies rose 147 per cent between 1990 and 1997…[and] the disconnection rate tripled in the first five years, with 18,636 households disconnected in 1994…”

Journalist Neil Clark has commented in The Guardian, “Water privatisation was arguably the most ideologically extreme of all the Conservative sell-offs of the 80s and 90s. Selling off water would have been regarded as completely barmy idea by the One Nation, middle-of-the-road postwar Tories like Harold Macmillan.”

The Independent notes, “Labour says it would create nine new public bodies to run the water system in England and Wales. The existing workforce would be retained. The party says ending the payment of dividends to shareholders and reducing interest payments on debt would allow bills to be cut by £100 a year per household – around a quarter.”

The remunicipalization of water services can be subject to an investment challenge by corporations that profit from these services.

The Labour Party platform states, “Labour will review our historic investment treaties with other countries, ensuring they are fit for purpose for the 21st century. Labour opposes parallel investor-state dispute systems for multinational corporations and we will open a dialogue with trading partners on alternative options that provide investor protection whilst guaranteeing equality before the law.”

The Council of Canadians has called on the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) to divest from privatized, for-profit water services in the UK.

We have highlighted that the OTPP owns 27 per cent of Northumbrian Water, which sells water services to 3.3 million people in the UK, and that the CPP owns one-third of Anglian Water Services, which sells water services to 6 million people in the UK. Both companies post millions of dollars in annual profits.

The BBC adds, “Thames Water, the largest in terms of customers and value, has a market value of about £12bn. Its shareholders include the Canadian pension fund Omers, the Kuwait Investment Authority and pension funds and institutions from across the world.”

The most recent public opinion poll shows that Theresa May’s Conservative Party has 48 per cent of the vote and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has 28 per cent of the vote, but that Labour has been steadily narrowing that gap over the past few weeks.