Express & Star

Mark Andrews: A life needlessly lost, the return of Watney's Red Barrel, and why nationalisation of water companies won't make our rivers cleaner

The mother of murdered footballer Cody Fisher, cut down in his prime because he brushed up against the wrong people in a bar, has branded her son’s killers weak, pathetic cowards.

Cody Fisher.

Can’t argue with that. But they are also symptomatic of a wider problem in society, of the fragile egos and hair-trigger sensitivity displayed by many towards even the mildest perceived slight.

A generation a push and shove in a bar would have been settled with a bit of salty language and quickly forgotten. But today, nobody ever backs down over anything. And we end up with young lives lost and life sentences.

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Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves reckons that better enforcement of tax law and closing a few loopholes will raise an extra £5 billion a year for the NHS, enough to make a serious dent in the Covid backlog.

What’s not to like? I’m sure that will be very popular with voters, as long as it’s publicised effectively. How about a slogan on the side of a bus?

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I’m not normally a fan of spoof April Fool’s news stories, mainly because of the dangers they pose to innocent folk who might take them at face value and then express outrage in newspaper columns..

However, hats off to Roger Protz of the Campaign for Real Ale for his hilarious claim that Watney’s Red Barrel was being revived, and it’s unique flavour would be replicated by sourcing the water from the sewage-infested River Thames.

To be honest, I’m surprised some marketing whizzkid hasn’t already given it a go. After all, somebody thought it was a good idea to bring back Hofmeister..

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Given the filthy state of our rivers, it is hardly surprising there are calls for the ‘re-nationalisation’ of water companies.

The only problem is, they were never nationalised in the first place.

It’s true the majority were once municipally owned. But not South Staffordshire, the company which supplies the majority of this area. That has been a private company since its inception, and has generally performed pretty well.

The real problem is that most of the UK still uses a Victorian sewage system unfit for the 21st century. It is the consequences of more than a century of underinvestment – not least during the years when most of them were publicly owned. Including Severn-Trent in Shropshire.

Let’s be realistic. Even if a future government were to find the billions needed to put the water companies under state control, do you seriously believe it would then find billions more to finance major investment? Of course not.

The truth is, Ofwat has failed hopelessly in its responsibilities to regulate the sector, and whoever wins the next election would do far better to focus on sorting out this ineffectual regulator than navel-gazing about the public v private sector ideology.

It should be the existing water companies, not the taxpayer, who foots the bill for cleaning up the mess.