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Tames Water linked to major sewage leak in Scotland 

It should come as no surprise that the notorious private water company Tames Water is linked to the recent sewage spill in Scotland.  It is responsible for the management of the Seafield sewage treatment plant near Edinburgh where a pump failure sent millions of gallons of untreated human excrement into the Forth river estuary.  Despite the health risk it was 40 hours before the public was notified.  This catastrophic failure was a direct result of a ruthless cost-cutting and asset stripping exercise by the company; a process which has intensified following its recent acquisition by   Australia’s Macquaries Bank.  In January, the company announced its intention to sell most of its subsidiaries, including its Scottish operations—the Almond Valley, Seafield and Esk private finance initiative (PFI), Glen Water, Scottish Water Solutions, Loch Katrine and Thames Water Nevis. 

In 2002 the operation of five sewage treatment plants around Edinburgh were outsourced to Thames Water under the Seafield private finance initiative.  At the time, Thames Water said the deal represented “A completely new partnership model in the outsourcing market place.”  Despite the usual promises of investment and improvement, what followed was a rapid deterioration in both the operation and condition these plants.  When the PFI management took over one of their first acts was to scrap the night teams who were tasked to deal with accidents such as the recent sewage leak.  After 4pm only one person was left on site. All the experienced staff left  when Thames Water took over and unqualified staff were recruited to replace them.   The chairman of a local Residents’ Association, which has campaigned for years about the smell from the plant, described the plant has having “infrastructure that is basically Third World technology.”

The Forth of Firth sewage leak should be a warning to people here.  For the reform of our Water Service is modelled on what took place in Scotland.  The Scottish Executive authorised the formation of Scottish Water in April 2002 following a merger of the three former water authorities—East, West and North of Scotland—on the basis of “a new public sector model in the UK water industry and Scottish Water [that] aims to be as efficient and effective as water companies in the private sector.” Scottish Water boasts that it has cut its operating costs by £366 million in 2002-2006.  However, this has been achieved at the cost of hundreds of jobs and a consequent decline in the quality of service.  While Scottish Water is still nominally in public ownership, most of its component parts have been privatised through outsourcing and PFI.  The creation of NI Water Ltd in April moves our water service in the same direction.  Indeed, even before this date the Government was already selling off parts of the Water Service.  For example, under a PFI scheme the management of water treatment facilities was handed over to a private consortium.  And which company is part of this consortium?  None other than Thames Water!    


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