Friday, 28 October 2016

The Welsh Water Question by David Shinn

Dŵr. Water.

Water has long been an emotional and contentious issue here in Cymru.

As with all of our natural resources, it is not in our control, nor is it used to the benefit of the Welsh people, or our economy.

With companies like Severn Trent owning large amounts of land and water here, and Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) agreeing on 999 year deals with them for mere pennies, we really are getting a raw deal. For such an important and vital resource, not a lot of noise is made about it.

Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr wants to change that, and demands a Welsh Water Act - an Act that would end these shady, unjust 999 year deals and see Welsh Water brought back in to public ownership, by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales.

There are many naysayers in the anti-independence camp who believe that we can’t survive without England, and that we put too much value on our water.

This is far from the truth – without Welsh Water, and these exploitative 999 year deals, England would not be able to supply water to many millions of homes.

So desperate is England’s need for water, that they have even forcibly evicted whole communities and flooded villages, like in Capel Celyn (Tryweryn) and Llanwddyn (Lake Vyrnwy), just to increase the supply of water from Wales to England.

We believe it is about time England paid a fair price for what they take from us, which would equate to a massive boost for the Welsh economy.

So, who owns “Welsh Water”?

The answer to this question is not very straight forward.

The Water Act 1973 amalgamated the water and sewerage companies in England and Wales, restructuring them in to ten regional water authorities in preparation for privatisation. In 1989, these regional authorities then passed in to private ownership. There are two main water suppliers in Wales: Dŵr Cymru and Severn Trent Water.

Between them they own over 90 reservoirs in Wales.

Severn Trent, based in Birmingham, own Clywedog reservoir and Lake Vyrnwy - Clywedog having been built to supply Birmingham and the Midlands, Vyrnwy to supply Liverpool and Merseyside. Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr has previously conducted investigations in to Lake Vyrnwy, and last November published an article on the blog detailing its findings.

These two dams alone hold 110 billion litres of water. That is 110 billion litres, in just two dams. 
Dŵr Cymru, who own a staggering 91 reservoirs in Wales, varying in size from 2 acres to 1,026 acres, are based in Mid Glamorgan and owned by Glas Cymru (Blue Wales), who bought the company for £1 in 2001, after the previous owners, Hyder, fell in to bankruptcy with a massive £1.85 billion in debts.

Glas Cymru was designed to be a not-for-profit organisation, and to exist solely for the benefit of their customers, but the figures tell us a very different story – there are a handful of people making a very large profit from Welsh Water, namely members of the board, who have taken millions of pounds from the business, whilst their counterparts in Scotland and the Occupied Six Counties of Ireland have received very modest payments.

An investigation by Rebecca Television in 2014 found that, in 2003, the executive, chairman and non-executives of Glas Cymru were being paid, on average, twice what their counterparts at the much larger Scottish Water (whose annual turnover is nearly twice that of Glas Cymru) were being paid. For example, the chairman of Scottish Water was paid £70,000 compared with the £140,000 taken by Lord Burns, former Treasury Permanent Secretary, who was then Glas Cymru’s non-executive chairman (meaning he had no responsibilities).

An article published by Glasiad ap Gruffydd on in February 2012, noted that there are 9 other “non-executive directors” (NEDs), most of whom are “patronage appointments with no responsibility”. Although accurate figures on how much these NEDs are paid are difficult to obtain, Glasiad notes that “Directors’ emoluments” (their salaries or fees) in 2011 were listed at a cost of £1.2 million to the consumer. That is an average of £120,000 per NED, who has no responsibility whatsoever, other than to sit on a board and take our hard-earned money.

Further to this, the Rebecca Television investigation also found that, between 2001 and 2014, Glas Cymru customers had paid almost £8,500 million in bills, yet Glas Cymru had only paid £150 million in cash “dividends” to their customers in that period - less than 2 percent of the total monies made.
In fact, Glas Cymru, other than a few token Welsh members, aren’t really a Welsh company. And those members that are Welsh are from the crachach and include company directors, professors, solicitors and civil servants.

Despite their names Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water, and Glas Cymru (Blue Wales), our water is not actually being supplied to us by Welsh companies at all, and it is certainly not by “not-for-profit” companies.

Maintenance contracts for the Welsh water supply are owned by United Utilities, a for-profit English company.

Customer service is contracted out to profit-making Thames Water, an English subsidiary of a German-owned conglomerate RWE.

Other English companies, such as Wessex Water, also get a slice of the Welsh water pie.

When all this is considered it’s very clear that, other than a select few, the people of Wales make no profit from what is arguably our most precious natural resource, nor do we have any control over it.

So, why don’t the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) do something to change the situation?

The simple answer to this question is, they can’t.

As we well know, the “assembly” is nothing more than an extension of Westminster’s rule in Wales, with very little devolved power at all. It is, for all intents and purposes, a puppet parliament, with their strings being pulled by the ruling elite in London.

As it stands, issues relating to water are already devolved to the WAG. However, because the assembly has no tax-raising powers we cannot benefit from sales of water here in Wales, or from the water supplied to England either.

Even if the WAG were to take a stand and demand a fair price for our water, it would be overruled by the Secretary of State for Wales, due to a clause in The Government for Wales Act 2006.

Tucked away in Part 6 (Miscellaneous and Supplementary), is Section 152 “Intervention in case of functions relating to water etc.” It reads as follows:

152 Intervention in case of functions relating to water etc.

(1)This section applies where it appears to the Secretary of State that the exercise of a relevant function (or the failure to exercise a relevant function) in any particular case might have a serious adverse impact on:

(a) water resources in England,
(b) water supply in England, or
(c) the quality of water in England.

So, we have “control” of our water, as long as we let England take as much of it as it deems fit, now and for the foreseeable future. If we were to do anything to affect this supply, England, via the Secretary of State for Wales, will retake full control over this resource.

It was, of course, the treacherous “Welsh” Labour who blocked the full devolution of water policy to the Welsh Government in The Welsh Government Act of 2006, once again demonstrating exactly where their loyalties lie and who they really serve, and it is certainly not the people of Wales.

As previously stated, England cannot survive without the millions of litres of water they take from Wales on a daily basis, especially those areas of South West England that have very large populations and very little rainfall. Yet, in 2012, when it was suggested by Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd that it was time to have a “mature debate” to ensure that Wales was properly paid for the water it supplies to England, the British (read “English”) media was in uproar.

God forbid us stupid Taffies across the border want fair remuneration for such a vital and precious commodity! Imagine how outraged they would be, if by some reversal of fate, England were to supply Wales with water at a rate of 5 pence per year for the next 999 years. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.

To add further insult, English consumers pay considerably less for their water than we do in Wales, despite their water coming from Wales.

So, just how much is our water worth?

This, again, is not an easy question to answer. Trying to find exact figures on how much Welsh water is supplied to England is rather difficult. It seems that perhaps, they do not want us to know.
In 2015, John Elfed Jones, the former chairman of Dŵr Cymru said that selling Wales’ water could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

In an article by John Osmond for the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA), published on their website in April 2012, entitled “When white water becomes white gold”, he states that “By one calculation Wales’ present export of water to England, from the Elan Valley to Birmingham and from Lake Vyrnwy and Tryweryn to Liverpool, could be worth as much as £4.5 billion a year.

This is the net transfer of social security payments coming into Wales after our National Insurance contributions are taken into account.”

Taking in to consideration that water could become even more valuable in the future due to climate change, these figures are conservative at best. Without knowing how the figures were calculated it is impossible to comment on their accuracy or validity, but one thing is certain – our water is worth a lot more than the 5 pence per year that Severn Trent are currently paying for it.

Even at the most conservative estimates of £100 million a year, this would provide a boost to the Welsh economy.

More research is needed in to just how much water is taken by England and its monetary value, however, Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr will continue to search for the facts and figures. We already know that we are being ripped off. We just don’t yet know the full extent of this robbery.

But, the exploitation doesn’t stop there!

Not only is our water pillaged by England for them to drink, they also use our water to generate electricity, in the form of hydro-electric power stations. Just last month, an application to build another hydro-electric power plant on the Afon Conwy by RWE was defeated.

There are some 20 hydro-electric plants in and around Snowdonia alone, which generate more than enough electricity for local need. Again, the English state, aided by foreign investors, seek to use our natural resources for their own gain.

However, it is not just our inland water that is exploited. Our coastal waters are too.

The Crown Estate “looks after” (owns) 1,287 miles, or 65%, of the Welsh coastline, and is also responsible for the seabed, up to 12 nautical miles. There are 10 coastal estates, located around Monmouth, Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Pembroke, Ceredigion, Meirionnydd, Caernarfon, Ynys Môn, Flint and Denbigh.

The Crown Estate also owns the sites of many offshore wind farms and marine renewable energy production sites, including North Hoyle, Rhyl Flats, Scarweather Sands and Gwynt y Môr.

In practical terms, this means that any revenue generated by the lease of these estates, or from the licencing associated with harvesting from these sites, trickles back to HM Treasury.

In the case of Halen Môn, the Anglesey based sea salt makers, they have to pay the Crown Estate a licence fee for using the water they harvest the salt from. Prior to starting Halen Môn, the owners ran Anglesey Sea Zoo and even had to pay a licence fee then for using the sea waters in their aquariums!

Just how much income is generated from our coastal waters we don’t know, but what we do know is that it is, in principle, our money.

It is blindingly obvious that there is a great injustice in all this.

Our water, like all of our natural resources, is effectively being stolen by the English state for the benefit of the English population, while the people of Wales struggle in poverty. For too long, the people of Wales have sat idly by, allowing the rape and pillage of our precious resources, while the ruling elite in England have grown rich off what is rightfully ours.

We will no longer allow this to happen. It is time to end this injustice. It is time to put an end to exploitative deals that see us robbed of our precious resources. It is time the Werin rose up and demanded a Welsh Water Act that puts ownership of all Welsh Water into the hands of the people of Wales.

Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr says “DYNA DDIGON!” – “THAT’S ENOUGH!”

Join the fight for a free and just Wales in the 21st Century – join the Great Unrest and support the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement!

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