UNISON Scotland today welcomed the announcement of a consultation over the proposed Scottish Water Bill. The aim of the Bill remains to keep Scottish Water in public ownership, but to allow the utility to expand its operations and engage in wider activities such as renewable energy projects.
It also provides an opportunity to promote a wider vision of water resources. UNISON particularly welcomes the Minister’s commitment to retain the control of Scottish Water in public ownership.
UNISON’s Scottish Organiser Dave Watson said: “UNISON Scotland shares the long term vision that Scotland’s water is much more than the provision of a utility. It is a vital economic asset that will become even more important in the years to come. If the 20th Century was dominated by oil, then the 21st Century will be dominated by water provision. Wet countries like Scotland are well placed to exploit the economic and environmental opportunities.”
UNISON expects that the usual vested interests will use the Bill consultation to yet again argue the case for privatisation. This would involve selling off assets paid for by the taxpayer over many years at a fraction of its true value.
We would be selling off huge swathes of Scotland, almost certainly to foreign interests, together with the opportunity to exploit Scotland’s water potential for the benefit of big business rather than the people. Charge payers would face higher bills to pay for the purchase debt, fees and directors salaries.
Dave Watson added: “Those arguing for privatisation, or the Trojan horse that is mutualisation, have no vision beyond a quick profit for their companies. They are tied to a narrow privatisation ideology that Scotland rightly rejects. When communities across the world are reclaiming their water, it would be crazy for Scotland to abandon our greatest asset.”
UNISON Scotland regards the Bill consultation as an important step towards a broader approach to water in Scotland. The current approach of the Scottish Water Board and the regulatory framework can act as barrier to this larger vision for Scotland’s water.
Scotland needs a democratically accountable, strategic approach to water that is broader than simply providing a utility, important though that is. On Scottish Water much emphasis is placed on the £140m of government financing for capital in the current financial difficulties. Less well known is the fact that £90m is returned through loan repayment.
None of this would be necessary if Scottish Water had prudential borrowing powers and UNISON would argue for the early adoption of this approach. The implementation of the Calman recommendations or the relaxation of HMRC budget guidance could achieve this.
This would also enable a public service solution to the exploitation of the renewable energy opportunities, rather than another expensive ‘partnership’. We need to develop Scotland’s capacity to exploit renewable energy.
For further information please see UNISON Scotland’s Defend Scotland’s Water briefing at http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/water/index.html