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Feargal Sharkey calls for public inquiry into water industry

Feargal Sharkey (Peter Byren/PA)
Feargal Sharkey (Peter Byren/PA)

Environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey has called for a public inquiry into the water industry after launching a scathing attack on how customers had been “scammed” by companies.

The Londonderry-born former singer in punk band the Undertones said there should also be a root and branch review of the regulation of the industry, adding that the current system had “utterly failed”.

He told a fringe meeting at the GMB annual conference in Bournemouth that customers were promised lower bills and the best quality water when the industry was privatised by the Conservatives.

He said: “We have ended up with every river in England being polluted, while £72 billion of your money has been stripped out.

“London and the South East is on the brink of running out of drinking water because there has been no strategic investment.”

Sharkey said every chief executive of a water company and the regulator should be “hauled” before a public inquiry.

Sitting next next to Colin Skellet, chief executive of Wessex Water, he also attacked the pay of company executives which he said increased despite rising public criticism of the state of the country’s waterways.

Mr Skellet, who told the meeting he was paid £280,000 a year but would not receive a bonus this year, said the issue of executive pay should be addressed because it was a “lightning rod” for the public.

He agreed there had been a lack of investment over the years, saying: “We need investment, but the right kind of investment by investors who are in for the long term rather than those who only come in and strip cash out.”

Sharkey told the PA new agency that watching the public hearings into the Post Office Horizon scandal had fuelled his call for a public inquiry into the water industry.

He said the regulator had “utterly failed”, coupled with a lack of political oversight, adding: “We need a root and branch review of water companies.”

Asked about the prospect of an incoming Labour government’s approach to the industry, he said: “I am incredibly optimistic that Labour will do the job the Tories have failed to deliver.”