How water investors including Chinese took out cash that firms could use to fix Britain’s network
Britain’s largest water companies have paid nearly £3 billion in dividends this year as the country slides into its worst drought since 1976.
This includes colossal payments to foreign investors, which critics say have reduced companies’ ability to invest in the country’s creaky water system.
Britain’s networks have been crippled by leaks and sewer pollution, while millions face a hose ban.
This year’s dividends are part of a £20bn cash flow since 2010 that has gone into the coffers of owners of UK water companies, including investment funds in China, Abu Dhabi and Malaysia.
Academics have warned that the dividends cost every household in England more than £100 a year.
Hundreds of families in Surrey woke up yesterday to either very low water pressure or no supply at all, due to ‘technical problems’ at Thames Water’s Netley Mill Water Treatment Works. Pictured: People queuing for bottled water in Surrey
LUXURY: Thames boss Sarah Bentley and husband Scanes on a ski trip in April
Queue for water – in affluent Surrey
Thousands of households in wealthy parts of Surrey were without water yesterday – a day after more than half of England was declared a drought.
Frustrated families and elderly residents waited in long lines in the blistering heat for bottled water in the Cranleigh Village Way parking lot yesterday morning.
Thames Water blamed the incident involving Cranleigh and nearby Dorking on technical difficulties at a water treatment plant and said technicians were working to resolve the issue. After the emergency water station ran out, supermarkets were stripped of bottled water.
Martin Bamford, chairman of the Cranleigh Chamber of Commerce, said Thames Water was “completely inept.” “I went to the distribution center for bottling,” he said. “There was a very, very long line of people – I’m guessing about 300 to 400.”
City Councilor Liz Townsend said, “There was a 92-year-old gentleman standing in line in the blazing hot sun, waiting for two two-liter bottles.”
David Hall, visiting professor and former director of the Public Services International Research Unit at the University of Greenwich, said: ‘The country urgently needs investment in water resources to prevent drought, investment to clean up sewage pollution in rivers and cut bills to help deal with the cost of living crisis.’
FTSE 100-listed companies Severn Trent and United Utilities have collectively paid out £1 billion since 2020. Both have UK and foreign shareholders in their registers. The American BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is an investor in Severn Trent. United Utilities, which includes BlackRock and Norway’s Norges Investment Bank as top shareholders, has paid out £296 million in 2022.
Thames Water, Britain’s largest supplier, has not paid a dividend to outside shareholders since 2017. However, it previously paid out large sums to its owners, including China Investment Corporation, a branch of the Beijing government, which holds an 8.7 percent stake.
Between 2006 and 2017, Thames Water paid dividends of at least £1bn to shareholders as debt mounted, the company leaked sewage into the Thames and it was attacked for paying little or no UK corporate tax.
The Chinese, who bought their stake in 2012, have received tens of millions of pounds in dividends. Despite the freeze on payments to outside shareholders, Thames has paid out dividends to its parent company of £70 million for the past two fiscal years.
The company said this was to pay interest on its billion-pound debt and to cover other costs. Our analysis shows that of the nine major water companies in England, only Southern did not pay any dividend in 2022.
Pictured: People lined up for bottled water in the Cranleigh Village Way parking lot yesterday morning
New wheat variety that beats the heat
By Georgia Edkins
New ‘gene-edited’ wheat crops could prevent food crises caused by drought, new research shows.
Scientists at the John Innes Center in Norwich believe that gene-editing techniques can secure our food supply by producing ‘heat-resistant’ strains.
They have identified a key gene in wheat that can be used to introduce properties such as heat resistance. Gene editing differs from genetically modified (GM) ‘Frankenfood’ in that it alters the existing DNA of a plant or animal, rather than adding DNA from different species.
Last night, ministers praised the breakthrough, which can be applied to farmland across Britain thanks to new Brexit freedoms. The radical technology was banned under EU rules.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Steve Double said the rollout of the technology would help “cement” Britain’s position as a “scientific superpower”.
He said: ‘We are entering the driest summer in more than 50 years.
“There’s no doubt that climate change means we have to adapt the way we farm.”
Over the summer, farmers expressed serious concerns that key crops, including potatoes and onions, will be much smaller and more misshapen this year as dry conditions take their toll on UK farmland.
But while paying multimillion-pound dividends, companies are being criticized for leaks, hose bans and pumping sewage into rivers. Campaigners have complained that leaks in the mains network and failure to address dwindling water resources are leaving Britain unprepared for drier periods.
However, companies give their bosses huge rewards.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday last month found that £50 million has been paid to chief executives of the 12 largest water companies over the past three years.
More than half of them received £1million last year, despite the cost of living crisis fueled by rising energy bills. They include Southern Water and Thames Water, which have banned garden hoses. The Lib Dems published a similar analysis last week, calling for a ban on bonuses until bosses fix their leaking infrastructure.
Of the 12 companies surveyed by The Mail on Sunday, Severn Trent’s Liv Garfield was the highest paid CEO, receiving £9.8 million in three years. She was followed by United Utilities’ Steve Mogford, with £9 million.
Thames Water paid ex-chief Steve Robertson and his replacement Sarah Bentley a total of £3.4 million. It said: “Our shareholders are in it for the long haul and have not taken a dividend for five years since 2017 to prioritize investments in improving customer service and protecting the environment.” It added that shareholders contributed £500m in capital this year and there are plans for them to deliver a further £1bn.
Meanwhile, Ms Bentley appears unaffected by the cost-of-living crisis affecting Thames’ customers after photos emerged of her on a luxury ski holiday that was thought to cost £12,500, days after households were told they were high. bills to expect.
In April, she flew with her family to the French seaside resort of Reberty.
But while she enjoyed the slopes with her husband Scanes, their five children and her eldest son’s girlfriend, households in England and Wales were told to pay an extra £60 a year in water bills for 65 years to fix the creaky Victorian sewage system. — because utilities making billions in profits wouldn’t pay the £97 billion the upgrades are expected to cost.