Examination of witnesses (Questions 462-465)|
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
462. Good morning, gentlemen. Could you identify
(Mr Thompson) My name is Alex Thompson. I am Unison's
national organising officer for water.
(Mr Kidd) My name is John Kidd and I am the chair
of the water service group executive.
463. Did you have anything general you wanted
(Mr Thompson) Just two brief points. There are two
issues we would raise with the sub-committee. One is on health
and safety. Currently, within the draft Water Bill, there is an
omission in terms of referring issues to the Health and Safety
Commission which is in the Utility Bill as far as gas and electricity
are concerned. It is an historic omission but it is one that we
think needs to be rectified. Every time there is a price review
or a change in the way the industry is required to work, there
is tension between the Regulator and the companies as to the impact
of the adjustment, whether it is a price increase or a price reduction
or a windfall tax, for example. Understandably, although not understandably
on our part, the jobs of our employees and their skill is the
area where the debate takes place. It is a question of, "We
are going to have to reduce 200 employees" and you have,
on the other hand, regulators saying, "No, you do not need
to do that." Following the last price review, we raised that
with the Minister and, to his credit, he wrote an open letter
round all the water companies saying, "If you impose cuts
which mean that you will breach your licence requirement, we will
take a very serious view of that." Unfortunately, the logical
next step to that we believe is to require in the Water Bill that,
where there are issues of health and safety, the issues should
be referred to the Health and Safety Commission to make considerations.
We note that the Water UK employers' representatives have for
a different reason made a similar proposition. That is one area
that we would wish you to take on board. The other is on competition,
where we feel that it is wrong as an appendage to the Bill to
be slipped in at the last moment. We are worried that the debate
over competition structuring etc becomes a debate about what suits
the equity market or the bond market rather than what is in the
best interests of the consumer and indeed will forget to take
into account the skills and knowledge within the employees in
the industry. We think the debate is much too serious for the
public, the consumers and indeed the employees for it to be an
appendage slipped in at the last minute in the Bill.
464. What you are really saying is that there
has to be, on the face of the Bill, the sort of protection for
your members that you are talking about, particularly in terms
of health and safety. You feel the contribution to your members
is not sufficiently spelled out in the Bill. Is that right?
(Mr Thompson) Yes.
465. Is there anything else that ought to be
(Mr Thompson) No. There are issues but they will have
been covered by other parties.
Mrs Dunwoody: Gentlemen, I am going to be a
bit brutal with you and say that is not only a classic example
of how to give evidence but it has been extremely helpful. It
will be regarded in inverse proportion. The shortness of the evidence
does not in any way influence the seriousness with which it is
taken. Thank you both very much indeed.