Labour claims Liz Truss’ £235 million Environment Agency cut ‘doubled sewage discharge’

Liz Truss accused of cuts leading to raw sewage discharges.
PA/ Still from video by @BEMatters
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is accused over presiding over cuts that precipitated raw sewage discharges. Credit: Still from video by @BEMatters / PA

Labour has accused Liz Truss of presiding over Environment Agency cuts that resulted in "doubled sewage discharge."

The 'savings' made during the Tory leadership contender's time as Environment Secretary significantly slashed funding for the Environment Agency - precipitating the recent raw sewage flows at the UK's beaches, the party claims.

Labour Party analysis of official figures shows that since 2016, when Ms Truss was in charge of Defra, raw sewage discharge more than doubled from 14.7 per overflow in 2016 to 29.3 in 2021.

This coincided with her cutting £80m of sewage monitors as part of a £235m Tory axe to the Environment Agency’s budget, which she branded “efficiency savings”.

Footage captures sewage being released into the sea at Bexhill, East Sussex, closing the beach. Video by @BEMatters

The Environment Agency works closely with water companies to ensure they are closely monitoring and reporting back on their discharge activity.

As Environment Secretary, Ms Truss justified the cuts, saying: “there are ways we can make savings as a department” citing better use of technology and inter-agency working.

Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said: “Under the Tories, the country is facing a crisis in our water supply. Our water infrastructure is at bursting point, with billions of litres of water being wasted every day and raw sewage being dumped into our waters.

“The fact that Liz Truss was the one to cut the EA (Environment Agency) so severely, not only demonstrates her lack of foresight but also her lack of care for the detail, in recognising the need to adapt to the serious flooding that had just happened on her watch.

“Labour will address the challenges in our water supply system by strengthening regulation and ensuing that bosses of water companies are held to account legally and financially for their negligence.”

The Labour analysis comes as dozens of pollution warnings were issued for beaches and swimming spots in England and Wales following heavy rain that overwhelmed the sewage system.

Environmental charities have warned about polluted coastlines Credit: Maria Mendiola/Surfers Against Sewage/PA

There has been growing public outrage in recent years at the volume of raw or partially treated sewage pumped into the UK’s rivers and coastal waters.

Water firms are being criticised for not investing money back into the UK’s outdated water infrastructure, with mounting pressure on ministers to intervene.

On Monday, Number 10 said it was the duty of firms to put customers before shareholders, with a spokeswoman saying: “We have been clear that the failure of water companies to adequately reduce sewage discharges is completely unacceptable.

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“They have a duty to put their customers before shareholders and we would expect them to take urgent action on this issue or face fines.”

The spokeswoman added: “We continue to speak regularly with them. The Environment Agency undertake enforcement action and monitoring, which we have stepped up.”

Downing Street also said water companies were already facing legal action from regulators.

The spokeswoman said: “Since 2015 the Environment Agency has brought 48 prosecutions against water and sewerage companies, securing fines of over £137 million.”

She added that since privatisation, the equivalent of £5 billion had been invested to upgrade water infrastructure, but the companies must “continue to take action”.

Sir Keir Starmer earlier accused the Government of having its head in the sand over the scale of sewage being pumped into British waterways.

Labour leader Keir Starmer. Credit: PA

He said: “I think there is huge anger about the sewage situation, because we’re seeing yet again sewage pumped into our rivers and into our seas.

“What it shows is that the Government hasn’t been tough enough on the water companies and the enforcement against the water companies.

“Of course, at the same time they have been cutting money to the Environment Agency.”