The privatisation of water

The privatisation of water

The privatisation of water in the UK has proven to be a significant failure. This is evidenced by a series of disastrous incidents involving major water companies like Severn Trent, Thames Water, and South West Water. These companies have faced severe criticism for mismanagement, environmental damage, and public health risks. Meanwhile, their executives continue to receive substantial compensation.

Severn Trent’s Sewage Spills and Executive Compensation

Severn Trent has come under fire for its poor handling of sewage spills. These incidents increased by a third in 2023 to over 60,000. Despite this, Liv Garfield, the company’s CEO, received £3.2 million in pay, bonuses, and shares last year. Her total compensation over four years amounted to nearly £13 million. This discrepancy between executive pay and company performance highlights a significant issue in the privatised water sector. It shows the prioritisation of profits and personal gain over environmental responsibility and public service.

Financial Instability

Thames Water, the largest water company in the UK, is on the brink of financial collapse. Thames Water’s parent company, Kemble, owned by international pension and sovereign wealth funds, defaulted on debt payments, rendering it insolvent. Despite supplying clean water to 16 million customers, the company has amassed billions in debt and could face nationalisation. This precarious financial situation demonstrates the failure of privatisation to ensure stable and sustainable water management.

Public Health Crisis in South West Water

South West Water’s recent handling of a cryptosporidium outbreak in south Devon further underscores the failures of privatised water management. The company initially downplayed the issue, advising residents to continue using tap water despite evidence of contamination. This led to over 90 confirmed and suspected cases of illness, prompting public outrage and a rush for bottled water. The company’s delayed and inadequate response exacerbated the crisis, highlighting the public health risks associated with profit-driven management practices.

Broader Implications for Capitalism

The problems experienced by these water companies reflect broader issues inherent in capitalist systems, particularly when essential services are privatised. The focus on profitability often comes at the expense of service quality, environmental protection, and public health. Executives are rewarded handsomely despite poor performance and regulatory breaches, while the public bears the consequences of mismanagement.


The privatisation of water in the UK has clearly been a disaster, leading to environmental degradation, financial instability, and public health crises. These failures are indicative of the broader shortcomings of capitalism, where profit motives frequently override the need for responsible and equitable management of essential services. The situation calls for a reevaluation of how such vital resources are governed, potentially reconsidering public ownership models to ensure accountability and protect public interests.

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