The government has been urged to open up the water companies to greater competition by one of the original architects of the Tories’ privatisation drive of the 1980s.
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (2 October), John Redwood MP backed opening up the regional monopolies for household customers that currently hold sway in the water sector.
The Wokingham MP, who helped to develop the privatisation blueprint when working as head of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit in the mid-1980s, said: “The water industry demonstrates that shifting ownership is helpful but doesn’t introduce the big advantages you get with competition. It’s high time we put a full competitive regime into water.
“Prices will come down and the quality and range of water on offer will change.”
He said that breaking up the regional monopolies would encourage suppliers to offer a range of different quality water to customers depending on whether they needed it for drinking or not.
“I only drink a very small part and the other good drinking quality water is literally flushed down the loo.”
At the same meeting, which was organised by the right wing think tank Centre for Policy Studies, Redwood was backed by his fellow Conservative MP John Penrose.
He said: “Privatisation needs to grow up because it’s now 30 years since many of these privatisation deals were done and all is not rosy in the privatised industries garden.”
Penrose, who heavily criticised Ofgem during his campaign to introduce an energy price cap, said that customer expectations had grown since the late 1980s and that the privatised industries “cannot afford to stand still.”
By failing to reform the privatised industries, the Conservative party had provided Labour’s left with an opportunity to advocate for renationalisation, he said: “We have not offered a really attractive positive vision of what these industries ought to be doing.”
Dr Tony Ballance, director of strategy and regulation at Severn Trent, said that there was “no clamour” from the company’s customers for renationalisation of the water industry.