Top bosses at nine water firms pocketed £13m as bills set to soar


The top bosses at nine of the English privatised water firms pocketed £13million last year amid huge debts that could soon be subject to bailouts funded by the taxpayer.

The figures also revealed that those water companies shelled out a further £14million to other directors. The news came as it was reported that water firms were planning to raise household bills by up to 40 per cent to meet the costs of the sewage crisis.

Sarah Bentley, the £2million-a-year chief of Thames Water, was among the top earners. She quit this week before it emerged that the UK’s biggest water firm was battling to raise funds to avoid its collapse.

The Mirror last night reported that Thames Water, with debts of £13.84billion, said it was working with shareholders to raise additional cash to “support its turnaround and investment plans”.

Liv Garfield, chief of Severn Trent Water, collected £3.2million in the 2021/22 financial year. That firm’s debts stood at £6.35billion in March last year, according to the water industry regulator Ofwat.

Steve Mogford, boss of United Utilities, received £2.28million, ahead of retiring in March. He has raked in nearly £50million since 2014. United Utilities was reported to have had debts of almost £8.2billion.

Gary Carter, national officer for the GMB union that compiled the figures, hit out at the wages scandal. He told The Mirror: “The sums being paid to fat cat water bosses while the industry crumbles are grotesque.

“Privatisation is clearly a disaster; directors and shareholders are awash with cash, while the infrastructure disintegrates through lack of investment, workers suffer and consumers face rocketing bills.”

Of the top earners, Yorkshire Water and Southern Water each paid £1.4m. Anglian Water forked out £913,000, Northumbrian Water £648,000, Dwr Cymru £675,000 and Wessex Water £498,000.

Downing Street is said to be drawing up plans to rescue Thames Water, despite it being under the ownership of rich foreign investors from as far away as Canada and Abu Dhabi. It came as Yorkshire Water yesterday raised £500million to shore up its finances.

Analysis shows of the industry’s £60billion debt pile, half is linked to the Retail Price Index of inflation, which remained above 11 per cent last month.

Ofwat uses a measure of firms’ debts known as “regulatory gearing”. In 2019, it set it at 60 per cent for five years. But data from 2022 showed most firms were above the threshold.

Suppliers will find the going tougher as the regulator proposes to reduce the level to 55 per cent for the next five years.

Feargal Sharkey, a clean water activist and former lead singer of The Undertones, blamed the “regulatory system and political oversight” for failings in the industry. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We have seen the symptoms of it in terms of the sewage crisis. It has exposed this deeper, underlying structural issue that the industry is clearly, very financially fragile, if not teetering on the brink of insolvency.”

He said that public money should not be used to bail out water firms, which “have made off with £72billion of our cash”.

Labour MP Darren Jones, who chairs the Business and Trade Committee, said the law did not allow the Government to claw back money “that very handsomely-rewarded shareholders have taken out from the business over very many years”.

Mika Minio-Paluello, of the TUC, told The Mirror: “UK families have been ripped off by greedy water companies for too long Privatisation is the problem, and regulation won’t fix it.”

In December, Ofwat raised fears on the financial resilience of five firms. As well as Thames Water, it noted Portsmouth Water, Yorkshire Water, Southern Water and SES Water (Sutton and East Surrey Water) as its “highest priority for engagement”.

Susannah Streeter, of financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Big questions are now being raised about the potential precariousness of other water firms.”

The Consumer Council for Water said Thames Water should be more transparent about its finances and should reassure families that taps would keep running.

Thames Water named Sir Adrian Montague as its new chair yesterday. An experienced City troubleshooter, he previously chaired British Energy and Anglian Water and was deputy chair of Network Rail.

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