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Water bosses pocketed £100m in pay and bonuses in past 10 years

Water company bosses have taken home more than £100m in salaries and bonuses over the last 10 years despite overseeing a major sewage crisis in the country’s waterways, new figures reveal.

Research into the annual accounts of each of the water utility firms since 2013 shows that nine of the chief executives have paid themselves £114m, including £61m in bonuses and benefits.

It comes as the issue of the dumping of raw sewage in the UK’s rivers, lakes and seas has become a national scandal and a key battleground in the election campaign.

According to figures shared with i, among the highest earners is Liv Garfield, chief executive of Severn Trent Water, who took home £3.9m in the 2021/22 financial year and £3.2m in the 2022/23 financial year.

The research by Labour analysed the annual accounts of each of the nine major water companies, showing the total remuneration of each of the chief executives, as well as breaking it down by salary, bonuses, benefits and incentives.

It comes as the party released separate NHS data that showed more than 10,000 people have been hospitalised since 2019 as a result of waterborne diseases as both Sir Keir Starmer’s party and the Liberal Democrats ramped up attacks on the “Conservative sewage scandal”.

Labour highlighted new analysis of NHS hospital admissions data showing the number of people diagnosed with diseases transmitted via waterborne infection nearly doubled during the past two years, rising to a record high of 3,261 cases last year.

The steepest increase was in the number of typhoid fever cases, which doubled to more than 603.

Typhoid fever is typically “uncommon” in the UK and more prevalent in parts of the world that have poor sanitation and limited access to clean water, according to the NHS.

Data from the Environment Agency for 2023 shows a 54 per cent increase in the number of sewage spills compared with 2022, and a 13 per cent increase compared with 2020.

There is growing anger over the polluted state of England’s rivers and coasts, with no single stretch of river classed as being in a good overall condition, and hundreds of pollution risk alerts issued for popular beaches around the country last year.

Labour shadow environment secretary Steve Reed said the NHS figures were “sickening”, adding the Tories just looked the other way while water companies pumped a tidal wave of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas, putting the nation’s health at risk.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems set out a plan to save chalk streams, which the party’s analysis suggested suffered nearly 49,000 hours worth of sewage dumping in 2023 – more than double the previous year.

The streams, which spring from underground chalk reservoirs, are one of the world’s rarest freshwater habitats and are found primarily in the south of England and Yorkshire.

Sir Ed Davey’s party repeated its proposal to launch a public consultation within the first 100 days of the next government, which could see rivers and lakes awarded a new Blue Flag status to protect them from sewage dumping.

Labour has pledged to ban water bosses bonuses if they fail to stop sewage spills in sufficient time, and will even bring in criminal charges for executives who persistently fail to meet environmental targets.

The Conservatives said in February that they too will block payouts for water chiefs if they commit criminal acts of water pollution, starting with bonuses from April 2024.

The party has also insisted it has quadrupled the number of water company inspections, meaning 4,000 inspections will take place a year by April 2025, rising to 10,000 a year from April 2026.

The Conservatives have been approached for comment.

Severn Trent water has also been approached for comment.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders are on the campaign trail, and i‘s election live blog is the go-to place for everything on the general election.

All the main parties have launched their manifestos: read i‘s breakdown of all the pledges from the Tories, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

i has urged the parties to commit to its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto to improve our waterways. The Lib Dems became the first to back the campaign, followed by the Green Party. Keir Starmer called the campaign ‘really important’ but stopped short of throwing full support behind it.

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