The MLA warned that the Water and Sewerage Services (Amendment) Bill risks putting in place deferral of water charges without a sustainable plan for the future funding and governance of Northern Ireland Water. The Bill in its current form, debated at its Second Stage on Tuesday 27th November, will defer domestic water charges until April 2016
Stewart Dickson MLA said: “We respect that the Assembly and Executive have agreed a Programme for Government which rules out the introduction of domestic water charges through to April 2015. Nevertheless, we think that this approach must be reconsidered for the immediate post-2015 period, and so question the wisdom of legislating for a deferral as far as April 2016.
“There is a strong case for the introduction of water charges. The current subsidy diverts millions of pounds from other essential services such as schools and hospitals, which affects the most vulnerable in our society disproportionately. It also limits investment in our water and sewerage infrastructure, and this cannot be removed from the recent flooding, which has highlighted the need for funding.
“A system of fair charging would ensure that services do not suffer, without the most vulnerable having to foot the bill. Moreover, the current governance arrangements do not afford management the flexibility to plan for future improvements.
“A steady and more reliable funding source would allow NI Water to borrow on favourable terms, providing additional revenue for investment in infrastructure. We need a model which is majority self-financing, with charging that is fair and based on the ability to pay. Only then will NI Water have the financial flexibility needed to plan ahead and provide the world-class water service that we desire and that Northern Ireland deserves.
“This Bill is short-sighted, in that it defers charging to a future date but contains no provision for the immediate period after this date. We now have an opportunity to plan ahead for the post-2015 period, particularly given the significant lead in time for any change to charging. It is an opportunity that we must grasp, lest we spiral into further years of deferral and neglect of our water system.
“The other parties celebrate the deferral of water charges when in reality this diverts millions of pound from services that the most vulnerable in our society depend on.
“My party will continue to advocate for sustainable funding and governance arrangements with charges that are fair, to deliver the best possible water service for Northern Ireland.”