Less than 30 per cent of people would support water nationalisation if Labour cut pensions to facilitate the move, a survey commissioned by Water UK has found.

Labour has long had the water industry in its sights as the first utility to be nationalised should it win a general election.

The ComRes poll found only 29 per cent would support water nationalisation if it cut pensions in the way planned by Labour.

This compares to 83 per cent support for water nationalisation often quoted by supporters of public ownership from a poll carried out in summer 2017 – before details of the party’s plans emerged.

As well as finding the low levels of support for a government take-over, the survey also discovered that only 22 per cent of the public supported moving in on pension schemes.

Last week it emerged that Labour planned to take public ownership of water companies for less than half the market value, prompting concerns from within the sector.

Furthermore research by the Global Infrastructure Investor Association (GIIA) shows there are more than four million public sector funds invested in the water industry in England. They face losing potentially thousands of pounds if the plans go ahead.

The GIIA has identified 67 UK pension funds with investment in the English water sector, with over four million members of public sector schemes and almost two million in private sector schemes.

Funds affected include the 158,099 members of the UK Mineworkers Pension Scheme, the 370,142 people in the Greater Manchester scheme for local authority workers, and the 134,339 members of the Merseyside local authority pension fund.

Meanwhile around 350,000 workers at Tesco and more than 300,000 BT workers would also be affected by the impact of nationalisation, the GIIA found.

Responding to the figures Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “More and more people are realising that spending tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to take over an industry that’s already reducing bills, increasing investment and cutting leakage doesn’t make much sense.

“When you add in the devastating impact on millions of pensioners it turns a bad idea into a deeply damaging one.”

According to independent thinktank the Social Market Foundation (SMF), nationalisation would cost the British taxpayer £90 billion upfront.

The National Infrastructure Commission meanwhile has said that significant ongoing investment is needed in the UK’s water infrastructure, estimated by the SMF to be over £100 billion in the next decade, prompting concern that other public services will have to compete for government funding.

Earlier this week Labour unveiled its plans to nationalise the energy networks with a document entitled Bringing Energy Home

Under the plans the transmission and distribution systems could be broken down into “multiple” structures.

As with the water sector proposals, the plans could also see investors not paid the market rate for their assets.

During a recent interview on Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics programme, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer John McDonell rejected the suggestion that his party’s public ownership plan would be successfully challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.

Such a case could be mounted on the grounds that failure to pay full market value would represent an interference with property rights, which are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, according to an analysis published by Clifford Chance last year.

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

PUBLIC SECTOR PENSIONS INVESTED IN THE ENGLISH WATER INDUSTRY
Name of Scheme Members
Avon Pension Fund 107,000
Cambridgeshire Pension Fund 77,323
Cornwall Council Pension Fund 52,450
Cumbria County Council Pension Fund 57,266
Derbyshire County Council Pension Fund 98,566
Devon County Council Pension Fund 122,524
Dorset County Council Pension Fund 69,136
East Riding Pension Fund (ERPF) 109,685
East Sussex County Council Pension Fund 71,232
Essex County Council Pension Fund 154,596
Falkirk Council Pension Fund 30,258
Flintshire County Council Pension Plan (Clwyd Pension Fund) 44,961
Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) 370,142
Hampshire County Council Pension Fund 154,191
Lancashire County Council Pension Fund 167,309
Leicestershire County Council Pension Fund 88,621
Lincolnshire County Council Pension Fund 74,052
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Pension Fund 18,099
London Borough of Barnet Pension Fund 26,503
London Borough of Bexley Pension Fund 15,095
London Borough of Enfield Pension Fund 18,874
London Borough of Havering Pension Fund 18,193
London Pensions Fund Authority (LPFA) 84,466
Lothian Pension Fund & Lothian Buses Pension Fund 78,856
Medical Research Council Pension Scheme (MRCPS) 10,302
Merseyside Pension Fund 134,339
Northern Ireland Local Government Officers Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) 114,026
Nottinghamshire County Council Pension Fund 136,917
Royal County of Berkshire Pension Fund 75,075
Strathclyde Pension Fund 233,312
Suffolk County Council Pension Fund 60,649
Superannuation Arrangements of the University of London (SAUL) 50,192
TFL Pension Fund 85,883
The City of London Corporation 12,857
Tyne and Wear Pension Fund 129,222
University of Oxford Staff Pension Scheme 13,378
West Midlands Pension Fund 313,399
West Yorkshire Pension Fund (WYPF) 101,857
Worcestershire County Council Pension Fund 57,821
University Superannuation Scheme 373,090
Total 4,011,717
PRIVATE SECTOR PENSIONS INVESTED IN THE ENGLISH WATER INDUSTRY
Name of Scheme Members
AA Pension Scheme 26,169
Affinity Water Pension Plan 2,422
Akzo Nobel (CPS) Pension Scheme 27,758
BAE Systems Pension Funds 121,000
BBC Pension Scheme 64,327
BMW (UK) Operations Pension Scheme 75,301
British Airways Pension Scheme 37,000
British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme (BCSSS) 52,964
BT Pension Scheme (BTPS) 308,183
Church of England Investment Fund for Pensions 40,000
Cooper-Avon Tyres Pension Trust 1,541
DMGT Senior Executives Pension Fund (SEPF) 285
Harmsworth Pension Scheme 19,068
James Neill Pension Plan 2,203
Liberata Pension Fund 17,433
Lloyds Group Pension Schemes 140,800
Marks and Spencer Pension Trust 115,378
Nationwide Pension Fund 30,197
Plumbing Pensions (UK) 35,711
Port of London Authority Pension Fund 3,215
Reed Elsevier Pension Scheme 32,433
Santander (UK) Common Investment Fund 60,000
Shell Overseas Contributory Pension Fund (SOCPF) 8,879
Tesco PLC Pension Scheme 350,000
Trafalgar House Pension Trust 25,000
UK Mineworker’s Pension Scheme (MPS) 158,099
Veolia UK Pension Plan 13,576
Total 1,768,942
Grand total (Private and Public Sector) 5,780,659
   

Source: Research by Global Infrastructure Investor Association