Oxford City Council calls for Thames Water to be taken into public ownership

Oxford City Council has voted unanimously to call for Thames Water to be taken into public ownership. Credit: PA

Oxford City Council has voted unanimously to call for Thames Water to be taken into public ownership.

The motion will also see the Council write to Thames Water to request the company’s CEO, Sarah Bentley, attend a meeting open to all Councillors, enabling them to question the firm on its performance. 

According to research by the trade union GMB, Thames Water’s infrastructure allows 635 million litres of water to leak out of the system every single day - equivalent to leaving a hosepipe on for 73 years.

Campaigners claim that leaks in the system have had a significant impact in Oxford, with the recent flooding of the Littlemore underpass given as an example.

Sarah Bentley joined Thames Water as CEO in September 2020. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Speaking following the passing of the motion, Chris Jarvis, leader of the Green Party Group on the City Council, said: “For 34 years, people across England have been suffering the devastating impacts of private ownership of our water system.

"In that time, we’ve seen billions of pounds siphoned off to shareholders and a complete failure to invest in infrastructure to reduce leaks - all alongside sky-rocketing bills. 

“It has long been clear that water privatisation is a failed experiment.

"It’s now becoming clearer and clearer that it is a legalised scam, which exists solely to benefit shareholders, to the detriment of both people and the planet.”

A main burst in Littlemore in August 2022, leading to flooding of an underpass. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Since water was privatised in England in 1989, over £72bn has been paid in dividends to company shareholders.

Thames Water paid out £392m in profit to shareholders between 2013 and 2017.

Alongside this, water companies have come under increasing scrutiny for releasing sewage into rivers and seas, including in Oxford.

Between 2017 and 2021, Thames Water has accrued £32.4m in fines over 11 separate incidents of water pollution, including a £4m fine for sewage pumped into Oxford’s waterways.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: "We're committed to protecting the environemnt and keeping taps flowing for our customers across the South East and Oxfordshire.

"We have written to Cllr Susan Brown at Oxford City Council and welcome ongoing discussions with the Council."

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them.

"We regard all discharges of untreated sewage as unacceptable and will work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary and are determined to be transparent.”

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