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Lib Dems call for experts to sit on water company boards to improve transparency

Under the party’s plans, local environment experts within the community would sit on the water company boards as non-executive directors.

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Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey makes a speech during a visit to the town centre in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, while on the General Election campaign trail

Local environmental experts should be represented on water company boards to ensure sewage spills are taken seriously, Sir Ed Davey said, as he accused Tory ministers of “sitting on their hands”.

The Liberal Democrat Leader is set to outline his proposals to hold the water industry to account during a visit to the Lake District today.

Under the party’s plans, local environment experts within the community would sit on the water company boards as non-executive directors to “improve public accountability and transparency”.

The experts would also be expected to hold community meetings to report back on action being taken.

In the run-up to the General Election, the Lib Dems have unveiled plans to abolish Ofwat and introduce a new water regulator to tackle the sewage crisis, in addition to banning water CEO bonuses.

According to the Environment Agency, sewage spills into England’s rivers and seas more than doubled in 2023 with 3.6 million hours of spills last year – equal to about 400 years – compared with 1.75 million hours in 2022.

Sir Ed said: “Water companies are getting away with this national sewage scandal whilst Conservative MPs and ministers have just sat on their hands.

“These disgraced firms are destroying our treasured lakes and rivers with their filthy sewage dumping – hitting human health, harming our precious environment and damaging the local tourism economy all at the same time.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to get tough on the water industry and a key part of that change must be new ways to hold these firms to account, putting power in the hands of the local communities suffering from this scandal.

“Local environmental experts on company boards could hold water bosses’ feet to the fire and local people would finally have a say in how their water company is run.

“Liberal Democrats will have the boldest manifesto plans to end the sewage scandal – from a tough new regulator to a ban on greedy exec bonuses to holding water bosses properly to account.

“This election will be about saving our country’s precious environment for the next generation, not least in special places like the Lake District.”

Sir Ed is visiting the Lake District, where protests have taken place outside the office of water company United Utilities, after it was accused of pumping sewage into Unesco protected lakes.

According to Liberal Democrat analysis of Companies House records, United Utilities has made £2.3 billion in operating profits since 2019 and paid their top executives over £2 million in bonuses.

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