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New Parliament To Be Loaded with MPs From Water Industry – Amid Concerns ‘Bias’ Won’t Help Combat Sewage Discharges

‘There is a long history of industry leaders and lobbyists becoming politicians. In principle, this can be beneficial – but rarely is’

Campaigners from Surfers Against Sewage hold a Paddle Out protest in Brighton over the pollution of Britain's seas in May 2024. Photo: See Li/Picture Capital / Alamy
Campaigners from Surfers Against Sewage hold a ‘Paddle Out’ protest in Brighton over the pollution of Britain’s seas in May 2024. Photo: See Li/Picture Capital/Alamy

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The next Parliament is set to have multiple MPs with backgrounds as staffers, consultants or lobbyists for the country’s under-fire privatised water industry, Byline Times can reveal.

This newspaper has investigated the backgrounds of prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) from both Labour and the Conservatives and identified at least half a dozen candidates who have a background in the water sector, with a good chance of winning their seats in next week’s General Election. 

A leading UK water charity has called on both parties to ensure that none of their candidates have “a whiff of sewage about them”.

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Sewage spills into England’s rivers and seas by water companies more than doubled in 2023, with 3.6 million hours of spills recorded, compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022, the BBC reported earlier this month, citing Environment Agency (EA) figures.

Water UK, the industry body for sewerage companies, said the record discharges were “unacceptable”, but claimed they were due to heavy rain and increased data collection.

The EA said that increased rainfall does not override water companies’ responsibility “to manage storm overflows in line with legal requirements”.

There is a long history of industry leaders and lobbyists becoming politicians. In principle, this can be beneficial – but rarely is.

James Wallace, chief executive of River Action UK

Lee Pitcher, who is standing as Labour’s candidate for Doncaster East and the Isle of Axholme, has spent most of his career in the water industry.

He worked for Yorkshire Water until recently, before becoming the head of the water sector advisory at consultancy firm Jacobs, which promises to help address the “unprecedented challenges” facing the sector “from climate change to emerging contaminants”.

In the nearby Yorkshire constituency of Ossett and Denby Dale, the Labour PPC is Jade Botterill. After being announced as the candidate last September, she started in a new job as a director of lobbying firm Portland

Among Portland’s clients are not only major oil giants like BP, but water company Southern Water, which received a record £90 million fine in 2021 for deliberately dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into protected seas.

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Labour candidate for Livingstone, Gregor Poynton, is a partner at Headland Consultancy, which represents Anglian Water. 

Meanwhile, Conservative candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, Alex Deane, works as a senior managing director in the “strategic communications” arm of FTI Consulting, which includes industry trade group Water UK among its clients.

Criticism of the UK’s privatised water industry has intensified in recent years as the scale of untreated sewage spills into UK waterways has become increasingly public. 

The nine chief executives of UK water companies have recevied more than £25 million in bonuses and incentives since the 2019 General Election, as the companies have faced accusations of prioritising profits and shareholder pay-outs above investing in infrastructure and protecting waterways.

Every major party has announced plans to try and crack down on the sector if it wins the election.

But the existence of multiple likely MPs with backgrounds in the sector has sparked concerns that the next government may be at risk of having, or being seen to have, bias towards the water sector.

James Wallace, chief executive of River Action UK, told Byline Times: “We are staring down the barrel of wildlife collapse and a freshwater emergency. Nothing short of a complete and immediate overhaul of how we value and manage water – our life support system – will do.

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“There is a long history of industry leaders and lobbyists becoming politicians. In principle, this can be beneficial – but rarely is – if the person concerned has integrity and severs all ties, bringing insider knowledge to solve the problems in hand. 

“But, as we have seen with the current Environment Secretary’s partner being a water company director, accusations of bias in favour of the polluter will be levied.

“Whichever party forms the next government, we urge them to ensure all parliamentarians are squeaky clean – without a whiff of sewage about them.”

The Labour and Conservative parties did not respond to requests for comment.


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