Water rates: equalisation or punishment?

William Graham writing in the Irish News has been weighing up some of the more detailed policy end of Hain’s speech and finds several sticks and few carrots:

He complained for example that Northern Ireland has the highest level of per capita public spending of any economic region in the UK while conversely on locally raised revenue being well behind the rest of the UK.

Mr Hain said average household contributions (including water charges) to pay for services in England and Wales this year will be £1,275; in Scotland £1,205; yet in Northern Ireland only £546. He said this was not sustainable.

From April 2007 rates will increase and water charges will be introduced but Mr Hain promised this would be done fairly with protection for those on low incomes.

“The new water charges proposals alone will allow us to free up huge resources to other public services, potentially generating up to £300 million every year by the end of the decade,” Mr Hain said.

Eammon McCann for one is not happy:

The water charges revenue will not be public money at all. It will be private money. It will go into the coffers of a private company, not into the public purse.

On Monday, true to New Labour form, the NIO used the controversy over recent violence to slip out news that it had handed control of water treatment facilities to a consortium of private companies—including the notorious Tyco International. This outfit, based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, was in the news the same day for another reason—the jailing in New York of former chief executive Dennis Kozlowski and finance chief Mark Swartz for up to 25 years. During the case, Tyco had been exposed as a company in which law and common decency were treated with derision as its bosses looted the funds and lived like Roman emperors while treating workers and customers with contempt.

In Hain’s eyes, that didn’t make Tyco ineligible to take over a key component of our water industry. It probably enhanced their credentials.

According to Katharine Bryan, the ludicrously overpaid blow-in who was handed the job of chief executive of our Water Service, the private consortium which includes Tyco is intended to provide half the North’s water supply.

Not a single person in Northern Ireland voted for this. Not one political party has come out in favour of it. But Hain and his crew impose it on us anyway. And then he has the gall to lecture us about the need to pay more to qualify as proper British citizens!

There’s been a a lot of discussion about the root causes of recent violence in both Protestant and Catholic communities. Not enough attention has been paid to the role of cross-community rage against the arrogance, dishonesty and undemocratic behaviour of Hain, Woodward and the rest of the gang of no-goods at the NIO.

Hain has some neck to claim that we are not paying our way compared to people across the water. It’s the opposite of the truth. Families here pay over the odds when compared to Britain for gas, electricity and other fuels—not to mention necessities like food and non-alcoholic drink, clothing and footwear.

Hain has the figures available to him. He ignores them because he doesn’t give a toss for the facts of the matter. Households here pay an average of £265.20 a year more on fuel than the average for the UK. We pay £431.60 more on clothes and shoes, £213 a year more on food.

But benefit levels are the same here as there—and wages are lower.