Thames Water boss under fire as he says bills have to go up by 40%

Thames Water boss under fire as he says bills have to go up by 40%

The boss of Thames Water has warned customers bills could rise by 40% to pay for improvements.

Chris Weston told the BBC the price hike was “the price customers have to pay for the investment in our infrastructure that's needed”.

He also said the troubled firm was “a long way off” from being taken over by the government and it was “business as usual for Thames Water".

Chris Weston, CEO of Thames Water (Thames Water)
Chris Weston, CEO of Thames Water (Thames Water)

But Communities Secretary Michael Gove said the firm’s leadership must “carry the can” for its shortcomings and not pass higher bills onto consumers after successive management teams failed to invest enough.

He branded the water company’s leaders “a disgrace” and claimed the firm acted in an “arrogant” way towards its customers.

The firm is in a funding crisis after shareholders refused to give the troubled utility extra cash.

The group – the UK’s biggest water supplier, with 16 million households across London and the South East – revealed its investors pulled a £500 million funding lifeline due to be paid at the end of this month.

The Communities Secretary said customers of Thames Water had been taken advantage of for years by successive management teams (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)
The Communities Secretary said customers of Thames Water had been taken advantage of for years by successive management teams (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

Thames Water blamed Ofwat, claiming the regulator had made its business plan “uninvestible”.

It is understood investors pulled the deal after Ofwat refused to bow to the water giant’s demands for a 40% bill hike, an easing of capital spending requirements, as well as leniency on penalties for failing to meet targets.

Asked about the water company by broadcasters, the Communities Secretary said: “I think the leadership of Thames Water has been a disgrace. I think for years now, we have seen customers of Thames Water taken advantage of by successive management teams that have been taking out profits and not investing as they should have been.”

Mr Gove, who served as environment secretary between 2017 and 2019, said he had called out the behaviour of the company while in post, but claimed they “haven’t changed their ways”.

The Conservative MP for Surrey Heath added: “I have zero sympathy for the leadership of Thames Water. In my own constituency, I have seen how they have behaved in a high-handed and arrogant way towards the consumers who pay their bills.

“So the answer is not to hit the consumers, the answer is for the management team to look to their own approach and ask themselves why they are in this difficult situation, and of course the answer is because of serial mismanagement for which they must carry the can.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (PA Wire)
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (PA Wire)

The Government would monitor Thames Water carefully in coming months, according to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

The firm has £2.4 billion of cash currently available to it, which should see it meet funding needs for the next 15 months.

But Mr Weston admitted if no alternative funding could be found by the end of next year,then it could face the prospect of a special administration – which would likely see the taxpayer pick up the bill.

Asked by broadcasters if the Government was ready to step in to support Thames Water customers if necessary, Mr Hunt said: “The Treasury will continue to monitor very carefully what is happening at Thames Water.

“Our understanding is that the company is still solvent and today’s news should not have an impact on the services received by customers.

“Obviously, there are parts of the country where the service has not been up to scratch, including in my own constituency, and local MPs will continue to hold Thames Water to account in those situations, but overall we will continue to watch the situation very carefully.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for a special administration regime for Thames Water after the investment plan was pulled.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “If you had the special administration regime, you get it away from these owners who’ve been completely incompetent, you’d stabilise the firm and you’d keep the bills down.

“And it’s alright Michael Gove being cross, well where are the Conservatives in this? The Conservatives have failed to tackle this over all their time, and we really need now to get a grip of this.

People are fed up of this sewage problem across our country – Thames Water is one of the worst examples of it – and they’re looking to the Government to take some action.”