There is a serious risk that some parts of the country will run out of water within the next 20 years. More immediately, some areas are facing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The responsible bodies – the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (the Department), the Environment Agency and Ofwat – have collectively taken their eye of the ball and urgent action is now required if we are to have a reliable water supply in the years ahead. Over 3 billion litres, a fifth of the volume used, is lost to leakage every day. Despite this, no progress has been made in reducing leakage over the last 20 years. The government’s weak efforts to encourage reductions in water consumption have achieved very little. Water companies have at least now been given tougher targets to make improvements, but we are calling for the responsible bodies to go further, and annually publish clear performance tables so that the government and the water companies can be properly held to account.
Government has been too slow to implement policies that could improve water efficiency such as product labelling and changes to building regulations. Nor has it done enough to resolve the tension that water companies face between needing to invest in infrastructure to improve water supply and the pressure to keep water bills affordable for consumers, particularly where consumers say they are prepared to pay more. We are sceptical about the effectiveness of water companies’ efforts to mitigate environmental damage and are not convinced the UK’s net zero emissions target has been sufficiently embedded in the oversight and regulation of the industry. The Department has shown a lack of leadership in getting to grips with these issues. We look now to the Department to step up, make up for lost time and ensure all parties act with the urgency required.
Published: 10 July 2020