Alliance refuses to back water reform ‘done deal’

ALLIANCE has branded the Government’s ‘Reform of Water and Sewerage Services in Northern Ireland’ consultation process, which ends today (Friday), a farce.

Finance Spokesperson Seamus Close said Alliance had written to new DRD Minister John Spellar MP to say that the Party would not be giving the Government’s consultation process any credibility by responding to a ‘done deal’.

Mr Close said:

“While there is an opportunity here for the new regional development minister to take a fresh and untainted look at this issue, I fear the Government’s so-called consultation exercise on water reform has been a done deal from day one.

“The drip-feed of lies and propaganda that has been used to promote unfair water charges has left the Government with zero credibility on the issue.

“One minute it says we don’t pay for water, the next it does; one minute it says that metering has been ruled out, the next it hasn’t. The NIO has been drowning in a whirlpool of its own spin since it started this disingenuous process.

“There is no denying the need for better water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland, but the Government has yet to face up to the fact that it is responsible for decades of under-investment.

“The Government tells us that its desire for water charging is to enable the water service to be self-financing. But this puts the proverbial cart before the horse. Only when a modernised infrastructure is in place should this issue even be raised, as happened in England and Wales.

“This is not to say that Alliance favours privatisation. It is crucial that the Water Service remains a public service. Ensuring safety and compliance with EU Directives, such as the Water Framework Directive, is the highest priority, and we do not believe a privatised service could deliver this.

“The Government has been keen to highlight the difference in rates paid by Northern Ireland compared to English households. This is yet more fallacious spin.”

Mr Close said that the Government had ignored several important factors in its rush to increase NI water charges*:

· Average NI household income is 19% below the UK average

· More NI households (21%) rely on benefits, than in the UK overall (12%)

· NI households pay 26% more for fuel, light and power than in the rest of UK

“All of these factors significantly increase the real potential for water-charging debt, which the Government has not taken on board in its rush to increase how much we pay for water.

“It is the Government’s responsibility to upgrade the infrastructure and improve the water service first, just as it has done in the rest of the UK. Any reform of the financing structure should only take place after this has been delivered. Future consumers must not be made to pay for past mistakes.”

*Statistical sources (in order):

Family Spending 2001-02, Office for National Statistics

NISRA, Northern Ireland Family Expenditure Survey Report 1998/99. (2000)

GCCNI, Frozen Out: Tackling Fuel Poverty in Northern Ireland (2002)

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