WhatsNew2Day
Latest News And Breaking Headlines

As UK faces worst drought in decades, how executive excess has engulfed our biggest suppliers

As the UK faces its worst drought in nearly half a century, a Daily Mail investigation reveals the full scale of debt and executive excess that has engulfed our biggest water companies.

Six of the firms are largely or totally owned by wealthy foreign investors, including from China, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

While customers are hit with hosepipe bans and told to find ways to save water, hypocritical bosses are being paid fat salaries – even as their firms decant sewage into our rivers and waste billions of gallons of water daily.

Interest bills on their collective debts – amounting to a crippling £60billion – mean they have less money to renew dilapidated infrastructure and fix leakages. 

So, in a special audit, we lay bare the state of this dirty industry and call on water companies to clean up their act.

Thames Water

DEBT: £12.9billion

CEO: Sarah Bentley

PAY: £2million

OWNERSHIP: Shareholders include Abu Dhabi Infinity Investments; China Investment Corporation; foreign pension funds; and the UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme

THE CHARGE: Fined £4million for ‘waterfall of raw sewage’

Thames Water is Britain’s largest water provider – and by far its most indebted. 

The company, which serves 15million customers, was named and shamed as one of the worst performers among Britain’s 12 major suppliers, with just two stars out of four on its Environment Agency performance rating.

It was fined £4million last year after it released a ‘waterfall of raw sewage’ that killed 3,000 fish in Oxford. 

An Environment Agency officer who attended the scene said that among the dead fish were hundreds more ‘suffering and gasping for oxygen’. 

In total, it has been fined nearly £7million over the past two years.

But this did not stop the company handing its chief executive, mother-of-five Sarah Bentley, £2million in pay last year.

The business, which is groaning under net debts of £12.9billion, needs a major cash injection to invest in infrastructure, to be provided by shareholders. 

Borrowing soared under previous owners, the Australian investment bank Macquarie. 

It sold its stake in 2017 after milking the firm for dividends, paying virtually no tax and gorging on debt for a decade. 

Days after Macquarie’s exit, the company was fined £20million for a series of pollution episodes on the Thames.

Sarah Bentley was unveiled as the CEO of Thames Water on April 22, 2020 - she has a £2million salary

Sarah Bentley was unveiled as the CEO of Thames Water on April 22, 2020 – she has a £2million salary

Southern Water

DEBT: £6billion

CEO: Lawrence Gosden

OWNERSHIP: Australian investment bank Macquarie 

THE CHARGE: ‘Very serious widespread criminality’

Southern was the first to introduce a hosepipe ban this summer, while its faulty infrastructure leaks around 88million litres of water on a daily basis. 

The company, which provides water services to 2.5million customers in Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, is notorious for its dire pollution record and was given a damning one star rating by the Environment Agency.

The company is controlled by rapacious Australian investment bank Macquarie, which despite the debacle at Thames, was allowed to re-enter the UK water industry and bought a majority stake in Southern Water for more than £1billion in August last year.

It promised to put the business back on a stable footing after it was fined a record £90million for deliberately pouring billions of litres of raw sewage into water sites off Kent, Hampshire and Sussex until 2017 for its own financial gain. 

As it issued the fine, the Environment Agency said it had uncovered ‘very serious widespread criminality’ over years.

Macquarie has pumped in an emergency injection of £1.1billion, promised to pay down debt and to provide £2billion over the next four years to fix pipes and sewers.

But there have been no signs of improvement so far and Southern’s debt pile has also widened from £5billion to £6billion under Macquarie’s ownership – though it says a fairer figure is £4billion after adjusting for derivatives.

New chief executive Lawrence Gosden’s rewards have not yet been published but he can expect around £1million a year, based on the earnings of the previous boss.

Gosden spent 12 years at Thames, when it was owned by Macquarie.

Lawrence Gosden was announced as Southern Water's CEO and it is estimated he earns around £1million per year

Lawrence Gosden was announced as Southern Water’s CEO and it is estimated he earns around £1million per year 

Wessex Water

DEBT: £2.32billion

CEO: Colin Skellett

PAY: £1million a year

OWNERSHIP: Malaysian conglomerate YTL 

THE CHARGE: Row over boss’s 40ft swimming pool

Wessex Water was blasted when it recently warned of a potential ban on ‘non-essential’ water use.

In 2018 the company, which serves 2.8million customers in Bristol, Bath and parts of Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, was hit with a £975,000 fine for a series of raw sewage spills. 

Wessex also loses 70million litres of water a day because of faulty infrastructure.

When preaching to customers, it highlighted how much water it takes to fill an average sized paddling pool, but neglected to say how much it would take to fill a pool such as the 40ft one at the £3million home of its £1million a year boss, Colin Skellett.

Colin Skellett is CEO of Wessex Water and earns a salary of £1million per year and has a 40ft pool at his £3million home

Colin Skellett is CEO of Wessex Water and earns a salary of £1million per year and has a 40ft pool at his £3million home

Northumbrian Water

DEBT: £3.17billion

CEO: Heidi Mottram

PAY: £648,000

OWNERSHIP: Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing 

THE CHARGE: ‘Health and safety failures’

Boss Heidi Mottram offered a ‘personal and sincere’ apology in January to a worker whose leg was crushed by a 1.5 ton pipe. 

Her firm was slapped with a £365,000 fine over health and safety failures that led to the incident.

Other recent fines include a £540,000 penalty from the Environment Agency after Northumbrian pleaded guilty to polluting a watercourse running through Heads Hope Dene near Castle Eden in County Durham.

Northumbrian, which serves 2.7million people in the North East and also provides services in Essex and Suffolk, paid out £91.7million in dividends, according to the latest accounts, providing another lucrative payday for its owner, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings.

The dividends were paid despite Northumbrian racking up £167million in losses. 

The water provider hiked bills in the North East by 10.8 per cent last year to an average £365, while bills in Essex and Suffolk jumped 10 per cent to an average of £246.

Heidi Mottram is CEO of Northumbrian Water, owned by a Hong Kong billionaire, and earns £648,000 per year

Heidi Mottram is CEO of Northumbrian Water, owned by a Hong Kong billionaire, and earns £648,000 per year

Yorkshire Water

DEBT: £5.6billion

CEO: Nicola Shaw

OWNERSHIP: Includes Singaporean and Hong Kong investment funds

THE CHARGE: ‘Reckless offending’

Heavily indebted and foreign-owned, Yorkshire Water was last month ordered to pay a £1.6million fine for 25 unauthorised spills into a watercourse in Bradford. 

The firm was aware of its storage tank being full and out of action for eight months in 2018 and did nothing about it, leading the judge to conclude it had been ‘reckless in this offending.’

The fine, however, is only slightly more than the £1.4million pay packet handed to former boss Liz Barber, who has been succeeded by Nicola Shaw. 

Yorkshire Water, which serves 2.3million households and 140,000 businesses, has been slapped with a total of £2million in fines since 2021.

Nicola Shaw was appointed CEO of Yorkshire Water in 2022 following former boss Liz Barber

Nicola Shaw was appointed CEO of Yorkshire Water in 2022 following former boss Liz Barber

Anglian Water

DEBT: £5.6billion

CEO: Peter Simpson

PAY: £1.3million

OWNERSHIP: Canadian, Australian and Abu Dhabi investors are biggest shareholders 

THE CHARGE: Sewage spill after 40-year-old pumps failed

Anglian Water had 14 serious pollution incidents last year – the most of any English water company – and it was given a lowly two star rating from the Environment Agency, meaning significant improvement is needed.

The firm said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ with the rating and blamed ‘a challenging year’, with extreme rainfall and widespread flooding in early 2021. 

The company was fined £300,000 this year for an incident in 2016 when raw sewage spewed out into the River Wid in Essex after three pumps failed. 

Investigations found the pumps were nearly 40 years old.

It didn’t stop chief executive Peter Simpson pocketing £1.3million, including a £338,000 bonus. 

The company, which has almost 7million customers across the East of England and Hartlepool, claims to have delivered the lowest price increases of any water company since privatisation. 

However, the average water bill rose 7 per cent this year to £452.

Shareholders, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Greater Manchester Pension Fund, recently pumped in more than £1billion to reduce borrowing.

Peter Simpson (left) is CEO of Anglian Water and earns £1.3million - next to him is MD of Anglian Water Business Bob Wilson and CEO of Northumbrian Water Heidi Mottram

Peter Simpson (left) is CEO of Anglian Water and earns £1.3million – next to him is MD of Anglian Water Business Bob Wilson and CEO of Northumbrian Water Heidi Mottram

Severn Trent

DEBT: £6.5billion

CEO: Liv Garfield

PAY: £3.9million

OWNERSHIP: Largest shareholders include US giant BlackRock 

THE CHARGE: Illegal sewage dumping was ‘completely unacceptable’

In a sector where lavish executive rewards flow freely, Liv Garfield is the highest earner, despite the fact Severn Trent – whose supply area stretches from the Bristol Channel to the Humber – made an £87million loss last year.

And, as her pay and bonuses rose by £830,000, the 4.6million families her firm serves saw their bills rise by an average of 7.1 per cent for household customers. 

Late last year the company was fined £1.5million for illegally dumping 80,000 gallons of sewage into Worcestershire water-courses, including a shocking 360,000 litres of sewage discharged into just one brook.

The episode was branded ‘completely unacceptable’ by an Environment Agency official.

Severn Trent’s largest shareholders, including US giant BlackRock, have received £495million in dividends since 2021.

Liv Garfield is CEO of Severn Trent with a salary of £3.9million despite the company making a loss of £87million last year

Liv Garfield is CEO of Severn Trent with a salary of £3.9million despite the company making a loss of £87million last year

United Utilities

DEBT: £7.57billion

CEO: Steve Mogford

PAY: £3.2million

OWNERSHIP: UK stock market 

THE CHARGE: Huge debt pile

THE £7.4billion FTSE 100 company was founded in 1995 and is now the UK’s largest stock market-listed water supplier. 

It serves more than seven million customers in the North West, England’s wettest region. 

United Utilities (UU) has a four star rating but that does not seem to have put an end to complaints about its performance.

UU was this year given a top four star rating from the Environment Agency. But it has a chequered history, including more than £1million of environmental fines in 2019 – which is far less than chief executive Steve Mogford’s latest annual pay package of just over £3million. 

The company says it has a strong track record of responsibly raising debt at low interest rates to fund long-term investment, with no increase in average household bills this year.

But £7.57billion is a lot of debt – around the same as its stock market value of £7.53billion – and costs the company millions of pounds a year in interest.

CEO of United Utilities Steve Mogford earns £3.2million while the company is in £7.57billion debt

CEO of United Utilities Steve Mogford earns £3.2million while the company is in £7.57billion debt

Pennon

DEBT: £2.68billion

CEO: Susan Davy

PAY: £1.6million

OWNERSHIP: UK stock market 

THE CHARGE: ‘Terrible across the board’

The owner of South West Water (SWW) has a dismal record for leaving the sandy beaches of Cornwall and Devon among the most polluted in Britain.

Last year, SWW was given the lowest rating by the Environment Agency – one star out of four. 

The agency said the company’s performance, like that of fellow polluter Southern, had been ‘terrible across the board’.

The firm, which serves 3.8million customers, paid a dividend of £91million to shareholders, plus a whopping £1.5billion in special dividend in June out of the proceeds from selling a waste subsidiary company in 2020.

Another £1.2billion from that sale was used to pay down debt. A much smaller sum of £500million was reinvested directly into the water business and £100million was paid into the pension fund.

Pennon has held the dubious accolade of having some of the most expensive water bills in the UK. This has been blamed on the need to service its massive debt pile as interest rates rise.

It has also cut investment in its wastewater system by more than the national average. 

This has been blamed for sewage and stormwater pouring into the sea around south-west England as well as a burst pipe in January that left a small Cornish village without water for 36 hours.

The company says it has reduced bills this year and that they are – on average – less than they were a decade ago. 

It also claims it faces ‘unique challenges’ due to the influx of tourists and new residents to the South West and says pollution incidents are at their lowest for ten years.

Susan Davy is CEO of Pennon, which has a terrible one star rating from the Environment Agency and she earns £1.6million per year

Susan Davy is CEO of Pennon, which has a terrible one star rating from the Environment Agency and she earns £1.6million per year

Scottish Water 

DEBT: £3.8billion

CEO: Douglas Millican

PAY: £558,000

OWNERSHIP: State 

THE CHARGE: Pollution incident killed 500 fish

Scottish is state-owned and its boss receives a relatively modest salary compared with his peers. 

But the company, which supplies 2.76million customers, has not escaped anger over its environmental record, albeit on a smaller scale than the penalties inflicted on others.

It was last year fined around £7,000 after pleading guilty to causing a water pollution incident in Fife in 2018 that killed more than 500 trout and salmon.

This was the result of around 400 litres of chemicals being discharged into the River Eden after a forklift operator accidentally punctured a container. 

The chemicals were then cleaned up but the water was poured down drains that fed directly into the river.

The group is also grappling with sewage problems. Data released last year showed the number of spills into Scotland’s rivers and seas had risen by 40 per cent since 2016. 

The company blamed the rise on climate change, which was causing Scotland to experience larger amounts of rainfall, leaving existing sewer networks unable to cope.

Douglas Millican is CEO of Scottish Water and earns £558,000 per year

Douglas Millican is CEO of Scottish Water and earns £558,000 per year 

Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru)

DEBT: £3.6billion

CEO: Peter Perry

PAY: £675,000

OWNERSHIP: Not for profit 

THE CHARGE: Pollution incidents rose last year

Welsh Water boasts it is a not-for-profit company with no shareholders, run solely for the benefit of its three million customers. 

It is financed by debt, and claims to pass the benefits of ‘low-cost finance’ to customers in the form of lower bills and improved services.

Chief executive Peter Perry earns a relatively modest £675,000 while average bills have remained flat this year at £463.

However, the company is being urged to ‘step up and take action’ after its latest annual performance assessment showed an increase in pollution incidents from 77 to 83 last year.

The company’s compliance with environmental permits for sewage discharges also fell and there was poorer self-reporting of incidents, Natural Resources Wales found.

Total fines last year were £8.8million. Salmon and trout numbers are now at their lowest levels since records began in the 1970s, with 91 per cent of Welsh rivers deemed at risk of losing salmon populations altogether, according to the NRW.

Welsh Water boss Peter Perry earns £675,000 but the company has seen an increase in pollution incidents

Welsh Water boss Peter Perry earns £675,000 but the company has seen an increase in pollution incidents

Northern Ireland Water 

DEBT: £1.42billion

CEO: Sara Venning

PAY: £210,000-£215,000

OWNERSHIP: State 

THE CHARGE: Almost ran out of money

A salary of more than £200,000 is high by most standards, but Sara Venning’s rewards are modest compared with rival water bosses.

This is because the company she runs has never been privatised – hence her pay, for providing services to almost 1.9million people, is akin to that of a top civil servant.

Earlier this year, executives told Stormont members the supplier would have run out of money if it had not received emergency funding in January, because energy costs and inflation had risen sharply since its previous annual budget was set in April 2021.

In 2018 a judge slammed the supplier for ‘extraordinary complacency’ over a sewage spill. 

The Environment Agency has brought it to court 73 times since 2007 over pollution incidents.

Sarah Venning is CEO of Northern Ireland Water and earns around £210,000 to £215,000

Sarah Venning is CEO of Northern Ireland Water and earns around £210,000 to £215,000

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More