'Water' lot to pay – money down the drain?

THE publication of the General Consumer Council’s report on Government proposals for reforming the water service here has generated much political response…

The DUP wants a Government ‘peace dividend’ to compensate for the years of underinvestment in infrastructure.

So does the SDLP, who are advocating outright opposition to reform, which is seen as the thin end of the privatisation wedge (which it undoubtedly is).

Sinn Fein doesn’t see a need for a separate water charge (as we already pay for water through the regional rate, despite what John Spellar might say).

The UUP seems to have shifted towards metering somewhat, as has Alliance (with safeguards).

Please link to any other groups that have responded, if you wish. Certainly, it is rare to see parties here so united on a single issue. Perhaps it’s all part of the Government’s great plan to get the Assembly restored…

  • alex s

    While it is hard to argue that we in N.I. should pay less in water charges (assuming that is the case) than on the mainland, at least from a unionist perspective, I find the proposal that water charges should be based the value of property wrong for two reasons.
    Firstly, it takes no account of usage and provides no incentice whatever to conserve the supply, and secondly, why should someone in an expensive area like Hillsborough pay more for water than a householder in Coagh, afterall water is a comodity like milk for which we all pay the same

  • willowfield

    I would also prefer metering.

    But I guess it makes as much sense to base charges on capital value as does local rates. We get taxed on our revenue (income tax), why not also on our capital?

  • Davros

    Why not on capital value ? Because, as alex pointed out, there is no incentive to conserve water.In fact there’s even a possibility that, because people will feel they are paying ‘extra’, they will use more water. It’s crazy that we have drinking quality water used for washing cars and watering gardens.

  • willowfield

    Yes, obviously. I already said I preferred metering.

    But if there is to be no metering, I’m just saying that if we get taxed on revenue, why not also on capital?

  • smcgiff

    But, is the water charge just a tax? Especially as it’s already in the regional rate.

    Is every single penny collected in water charges pumped (pardon the pun) back into water treatment, etc?

    If not, then it’s just like most other taxes, to pay for NI as a whole. In this case it’s hard to justify it on the basis of water usage, and by extension makes sense to apply it according to wealth.

    Poll tax anyone?

  • willowfield


    You describe the current system.

    The proposal is to introduce separate water charges that will all be used to finance the Water Service.

  • smcgiff

    ‘The proposal is to introduce separate water charges that will all be used to finance the Water Service.’

    If it is to be primarily used to finance the water system then metering makes sense.

    I would, however, suggest that there is a fixed cost before excess use is penalised with higher charges. This would allow those on less income to have a reasonable amount of water usage supported by the economy as a whole.

  • willowfield

    Apparently – if John Spellar is to be believed – 80% of water costs are fixed, and only 20% depend on usage. So, if meters were introduced, there wouldn’t be that much difference in charges between the moderate user and the heavy user.

  • smcgiff

    ‘Apparently – if John Spellar is to be believed – 80% of water costs are fixed, and only 20% depend on usage.’

    Is that the plan or the current situation?

  • willowfield

    Both apparently

  • smcgiff

    How can they presently tell without meters?

    *He said showing his ignorance*

  • willowfield

    I guess they examine the costs, and add them up. Those costs that are fixed, e.g. managing reservoirs, treating the water, maintaining pipes, etc., must make up 80% of total costs. The cost of actual water usage must be 20%.

  • smcgiff

    Oh, I see what you mean.

    However, I meant from a user level.

    I propose a person/house should have a fixed purchase cost for a fixed litre usage per year. Then above this magic number there should be a marginal cost attributed to ‘excess’ use.

    This would reduce the cost of ‘normal’ use and benefit the less well off.

    This of course assumes that water service charges relate to the cost of running the water service.

  • Moderate Unionist

    The water rate is just a tax. My understanding is the money raised by the water rates is not ring fenced. i.e. It can be spent on anything. The main argument for introducing it is that we pay less rates in Northern Ireland than we do in GB, but we are a small region with high fixed costs and a modest economy.

    It’s PR spin, apparently we need to invest significantly to bring the system up to EU standards. If there is one thing that Northern Ireland should be “world class” at it is providing drinking water. Think Italy, Portugal, Spain, France (remember don’t drink the water).

    It’s a tax and probably an attempt at wealth redistribution as well East to West (lower housing cost).

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Willowfield said “if John Spellar is to be believed”.

    He isn’t.

    He lies regularly about water charge proposals.

  • George

    What does your average Northern Irelander pay in rates towards their water bills?

    I assume rates are also meant to cover waste, snow clearance etc.

  • willowfield

    Nobody knows because they cleverly stopped the disaggregation of water rates some years ago and, apparently it is “too complicated” to work out!

    The rest of the rates bill covers local government services, including those former local services which were taken into central government in 1973.

    Here’s a list.

  • willowfield
  • George

    Cheers Willowfield,
    can’t find anywhere there that says how much people pay per year. What’s the going average?

  • aquifer

    Go for metering, there is probably enough neglected infrastructure around to provide enough water if the NI Civil Service can be arsed to manage it. Leakage was estimated at maybe 15% but was actually closer to 55%.

    There is too much spare capital in the world, and the capitalists urgently need to provide fresh investment destinations with risk-free returns. Burying concrete in the ground to provide extra water again and again (it rains here, don’t it) is the lazy and risk averse investor’s (and the careerist civil service intrapreneur’s) dream ticket to a lucrative future at our expense.

  • George

    don’t forget that all the water that comes out of the tap has to be treated and the waste disposed of so it’s hardly a dream ticket for anyone.

    There is a need for a huge investment in water infrastructure in Northern Ireland. Only 35% of the entire sewage system actually met European standards so could not cope with any new demand. It’s 95% in England and Wales.

    Raw sewage is being pumped into the sea at an alarming rate in several areas and housing estates are still being built even though there is no waste treatment in place.

    There is a British government investment of 590 million pounds for the three years 2004-2006, which is woefully inadequate.

    Just for comparison, in the Republic 2003-2005 there is investment of 5.4 billion euros (3.7 billion pounds). This follows average spending of 400 million a year in the previous three years.

  • alex s

    It’s crazy that we have drinking quality water used for washing cars and watering gardens.

    Davros makes an interesting point, what proportion of our water output is actually consumed, i.e. drunk, I suspect we spend a fortune producing good quality drinking water when in reality only a minute fraction of it is drunk, maybe it would be cheaper to buy drinking water and to reduce the treatments costs of the piped supply as most of it is flushed away anyway

  • George

    Alex s,
    the good people of Northern Ireland use 60 litres a day more than your average German but that is not down to just washing cars on a Sunday, it’s mostly down to the condition of the pipes. The money has to be put into upgrading the system first. Will a privatised company do that without passing on the costs to the consumer? I don’t think so and the government has washed its hands of the problem. This will cost the people of NI a lot of money.

    There are savings that can be made, like people storing rainwater to wash cars, fixing dripping taps (one dripping tap wastes 7,000 litres a year), introduce the four litre toilet etc.

    Another problem is that no one seems to know who is using the water in NI.

    In the Irish Republic 77% of water is used by industry and 23% by your average punter.

    Although Ireland doesn’t charge your average punter for water, industry is metered and has to pay while under law all new housing estates have to have metres fitted to help track usage and detect leaks.

    Metering should come in for Northern if only to find out where the water is going and if a more equitable way of charging could apply.