Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 462-465)



Mrs Dunwoody

  462. Good morning, gentlemen. Could you identify yourselves, please?
  (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 to say?
  (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 included?
  (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.

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