Thames Water: Unfit to protect our environment

 

Sewage around Marlow pc credit Environment Agency

Raw Sewage and foam around sailing boats on the Thames. pic credit: Environment Agency

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The record £20m fine for  Thames Water’s multiple pollution of the River Thames and its tributaries  with over 1.4 billion tonnes of untreated sewage shows  how badly the company was managed.

It makes the incident where the company polluted the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal seem small fry compared to the damage the company caused to humans, livestock. wildife and fish across Hertfordshire,Buckinghamshire, Berkshire  and Oxfordshire.

Thames Water admitted 13 breaches of environmental laws over discharges from sewage treatment works in Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow, and a pumping station at Littlemore.

It also pleaded guilty to a further charge on March 17 over a lesser discharge from an unmanned sewage treatment plant at Arborfield in Berkshire in September 2013.

The court at Aylesbury also took into account seven further incidents at sewage sites on the Thames in 2014.

thames waterWhat was extraordinary was the lax attitude of  top managers who ignored warnings from staff about failures in the system

 No wonder the judge Francis Sheridan said: “This is a shocking and disgraceful state of affairs. It should not be cheaper to offend than take appropriate action.”

He added: “What a dreadful state of affairs that is.

“Logbook entries reflected the pathetic state of affairs and the frustration of employees.

“Thames Water utilities continually failed to report to the Environment Agency despite (managers) being fully aware of the issues and reporting governance.”

He later said of the firm: “There is a history of non-compliance.”

Anne Brosnan, the Environment Agency’s chief prosecutor, said in The Guardian: “Thames Water was completely negligent to the environmental dangers created by the parlous state of its works. Our investigation revealed that we were dealing with a pattern of unprecedented pollution incidents which could have been avoided if Thames Water had been open and frank with the EA as required.”

But should  we be surprised? Thames Water is a remote multinational making huge profits – and a £20m fine – large as it is – will still hardly dent a £742m annual profit.It is also only a quarter of the annual dividend paid to investors.

And it’s owners include Kuwaitis, the Chinese, Canadians and other international foreign investors . What will they care if fish die in Oxfordshire and  humans running sailing clubs become ill.

They are now claiming it is better managed and promising tigher controls. But they won’t want to sacrifice the bottom line and have a captive audience who can’t live without water or disposing their waste.

If ever there is a case for the return of  public ownership Thames Water have made it today. They have proved themselves unfit to protect the environment.

 

 

Whitehall doesn’t rule OK: How Wendover canal trust tragically missed out on a £1 million payout from river polluters

thames water

Thames Water’s pollution of the Wendover Arm led to the £1m fine

Over a year ago I raged about the injustice of the very wealthy Thames Water private utility being fined £1m for polluting the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal  with sewage because they ignored a simple £30,000 repair to the outfall of Tring sewage works. The article is here.

I thought it was particularly unfair on the volunteers who are restoring the canal  and decided to write to our local MP, David Gauke, who is now chief secretary to the Treasury, suggesting that the government might reimburse the fine to help the trust. which desperately needs the money.I also lobbied David Lidington, now leader of the House, to see, as Wendover is in his constituency, whether he would back the idea.

Conservative Party Portraits

David Gauke MP, the Treasury minister said No

David Gauke took a long time to reply ( he admitted that his office had mislaid my letter) but finally at the end of January he replied from the Treasury.

His answer was a resounding NO. He wrote: ” Fines are considered a tax-type revenue and government departments and their agencies, in this case the Environment Agency, are legally obliged to surrender these receipts to the Treasury. revenue surrendered to this account is not ring fenced for any specific area of government funding..”

environment agency letter

Full Text of Letter saying NO from David Gauke

Imagine my surprise then to see this press release  on the same day from the Environment Agency.

Environmental charities receive over £1.5 million from businesses which broke environmental laws

This revealed :

“There are 26 Enforcement Undertakings on the new list with payments ranging from £1,500 – £375,000, including 6 companies that have agreed to make 6 figure payments: ( among these were)

  • Northumbrian Water Limited (£375,000) for pumping raw sewage into a tributary of the River Tyne.
  • Filippo Berio UK Limited (£253,906.91) for failing to recover or recycle packaging waste.
  • Anglian Water Services Limited have made two separate payments (£100,000 and £100,000) both for causing pollution incidents which killed fish.

Among the beneficiaries were the Nene Country Park in Northamptonshire and river trusts  on the Tyne. The list of enforcement undertakings is published here:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/enforcement-undertakings-accepted-by-the-environment-agency

It shows a much wider group of people have benefited.

So I wrote back to the minister which led to this reply last week from Department for Environment and Rural Affairs.

Yes they had been able to do this since 2015 – by accepting Enforcement Undertakings to cover river pollution rather than taking companies to court.

The court case involving Thames Water was in 2016. But here’s the rub -because the pollution took place in 2012 and 2013 it was not covered by the change in the law.

david gauke letterTwo points from this tragic state of affairs. First I am surprised by the ignorance of David Gauke that as a Cabinet minister he didn’t know his own government had changed the law.

Second it seems very unfair the Wendover Arm Trust has lost out. Perhaps pressure should be put on Thames Water – who has just been fined for polluting the River Thames – to give a donation to the trust. And certainly  if they repeat this pollution immediate representation should be made to the Environment Agency for an Enforcement Undertaking so money can be handed out to the trust in future.

 

How the government is allowing the Japanese to profit from captive London and Brummie commuters

 

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Earlier this month the Department of Transport extended its recommended list of bidders to run Britain’s railways to a privatised rail company in Japan.

It shortlisted East Japan Railway as a minority partner with the Dutch state rail company Abellio, in the consortium West Midlands Trains Ltd as one of three groups bidding to take over the West Midlands franchise next October. which provides commuter services into London and Birmingham including my home town of Berkhamsted.

But more significantly it decided that East Japan Railway would qualify as an approved bidder for any other franchise up for grabs until 2020.

The Telegraph presented  the bid as a move by a company at the cutting edge of technology as it provides some of  Japan’s bullet train services.

But anyone thinking those on the crowded commuter routes will be whisked in by a super bullet train service should think again.

The story is in fact the exact opposite once you study the company’s latest annual report.

What it shows is that the bedrock of the company’s regular income is its commuter services around Tokyo not its bullet trains. And the prospect for making any more money out of them is a tad bleak.

It reveals that the company is currently facing a downturn in its commuter services serving Tokyo partly caused by a declining population and is looking to expand abroad. It currently provides no services outside Asia – where it is helping develop a mass transit rail system for Bangkok and improve train services in Indonesia.

The annual report says: “Generally, Japan’s declining population is seen as unfavourable for the transportation industry. However, our performance in fiscal 2015 proved that, even in an era of population decline, we can grow revenues by steadily implementing various measures.”

These include developing stations and encouraging more retired people to use local trains as the number of commuters decline.

With lower fares in Japan than the UK, the move could give the operator access to the lucrative London commuter market and it could also offer its services to maintain and build new trains for the British market.

So in other words commuters using London Midland trains to get into Birmingham and London Euston will be contributing to  profits which can be repatriated to Tokyo to offset the declining  Japanese market.

Which makes an investment in London Midland a one way bet for the Japanese since the current Tory government will ensure fares rise every year and the growing population in the UK will all help boost profits.

I would not be surprised to see government ministers in the transport department helping themselves to directorships and consultancies with the company a couple of years after they have stepped down from their posts. After all they have done them a great favour.

I have written about this in Tribune. The three consortia bidding are:a consortium run by London and West Midlands Railway Ltd, a subsidiary of Govia Ltd (a joint venture between Keolis and Go-Ahead Group)’ West Midlands Trains Ltd, currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Group Ltd with East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co Ltd as minority partners; and MTR Corporation (West Midlands) Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd which runs the Hong Kong rail system.

The new London Midland operator will take over in October this year.

Is a £1 million fine a drop in the ocean for Thames Water?

thames water

Thames Water’s pollution started all of this with a £1m fine

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Today the Environment Agency is rightly triumphant in celebrating a £1 million fine against Thames Water for polluting the Grand Union Canal for  nine months in nearby Tring.

This is the highest fine imposed by the courts ever in history according to a release from the Environment Agency. But is it really going to hurt Thames Water apart from the bad publicity?

First of all the case. It was brought by the Environment Agency after Thames Water caused repeated discharges of polluting matter from Tring STW (Sewage Treatment Works) to enter the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire between July 2012 and April 2013.

In May Thames Water pleaded guilty before Watford Magistrates Court to two charges under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. On Monday 4 January, at St Albans Crown Court the company was ordered to pay a fine of £1 million, costs of £18,113.08 and a victim surcharge of £120.

Their report goes on:

“The court heard that poorly performing inlet screens caused equipment at the works to block, leading to sewage debris and sewage sludge being discharged into the canal. The inlet screens should take out the majority of sewage debris referred to as ‘rag’ from the process, but the screens had repeatedly failed in this case.”

And it adds: ” The Environment Agency received complaints from the Canal and Rivers Trust and from the general public about pollution in the canal. Officers attended the site on several occasions, they saw sewage debris including panty liners and ear buds in the vicinity of the outfall.”

Thames Water now says it has put matters right at a cost of only £30,000 but it seems to have taken a rather long time to do it. In the meantime it put anglers and boaters at risk from infection.

It also frankly was heaping a lot of shit (literally) on volunteers who are working to restore the rest of the Wendover Arm of the canal so that it can be used again by anglers and boaters. You can see their work here.

Yet put in context the £1m fine with Thames Water’s activities. The latest interim  half yearly figures from the company show it had a turnover of £1 billion, made a £200 million plus profit and paid out  interim dividends of £25m. So the £1 million fine is just 0.5 per cent of six months profit.

And if taken on a yearly basis – the last full year profit was £364m of which £169m was distributed in dividends. Investors include pension funds and the Chinese.

More interestingly the Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs entire package well exceeds the £1m fine. The accounts for 2014-15 show his package in the company is over £2m for services to the group. His £460,000 salary is boosted by £53,000 in benefits including a £36,000 housing allowance, £15,000 for a company car and £2000 private medical insurance. He has long term bonuses worth over £1m with payouts of nearly £350,00 planned for the next three years. And he has a handsome £115,000 contribution to his pension.

Put all this together and perhaps £1m should be the minimum Thames should pay for any pollution they cause.Perhaps fines of £10m or a personal deduction from fat cat salaries should also be included.

The public may be pleased with the level of the fine – but for the company it seems but a  few drops from its bank balance.

Closed today: The rehab hospital that should be at the cutting edge of NHS care

Gossoms End Community hospital, Berkhamsted : Closed today

Gossoms End Community hospital, Berkhamsted : Closed today

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When my wife Margaret was struck down by a stroke on holiday and  lost her mobility one of the  redeeming features was that after her initial care in Truro she was transferred at our GP’s insistence to Gossoms End Community Hospital in our home town, Berkhamsted.

As a result of her stay there and later at the now closed  Holywell rehab unit at St Albans Hospital she has progressed in two years from help to get out of bed and living in a wheelchair through to the first stage of slow independent walking without any aids.

That is in no small part to the loving care at Gossoms End which led me to write a blog two years ago praising the work there.

At the time I said :

“What is particularly good is that some one has properly planned this facility so that stroke victims and people recovering from serious injuries can get proper physiotherapy and nursing care in a decent environment. The hospital unlike Watford, the main accident and emergency hospital for West Herts, is under no pressure to throw people out at the earliest opportunity. The cost of running it is much less than using a ward in acute hospital.

But the real key is that this is a nurse and physiotherapy led unit – with a weekly visit from a consultant and a doctor on call. The result is that the driving force  behind the care is to find the most suitable  rehab treatment for the individual patient.”

Alas that is no more. The unit closed  today because the Herts Community Health Trust  which runs it has overspent on agency staff because they can’t get full-time staff. It has faced criticism over staffing levels at other hospitals. Staff have been transferred elsewhere.

If you read the latest board minutes you see a trust that is struggling to provide services across Hertfordshire It is short of staff in key areas, facing an emergency financial crisis and failing in its ambition to become an independent foundation trust. Indeed it can only achieve the latter as far as I can see by slashing services so it can become profitable. Most of the key issues at the board meeting have a red or amber tag – meaning they are facing a disaster unless they slash costs in four weeks by closing down every possible service.

This local example to my mind illustrates the lie by our national politicians particularly by Jeremy Hunt, the health  secretary – about the state of the NHS. They trip out figures boasting about how much extra money there is. They haven’t a clue about integrated planning. They don’t know  and  don’t care how one policy – high house prices in Hertfordshire probably contributes to difficulties in recruiting staff -impacts on another. They are incapable of joining anything up – silo politicians.

In the meantime they talk about  so-called government policy ” care in the community” or ” no care in the community” as I prefer to call it. This is just an excuse to close down facilities and dump the sick ,ill, disabled and the insane on their families knowing that taxpayers don’t have to pay out. And if they haven’t any family, well, they will probably fall over and die and that will be a saving on the pensions bill.

To my mind closure of such facilities is short sighted. It means they only half rehabilitate people, failing to draw out their full potential and not wishing to acknowledge that new medical research shows that stroke victims  continue to improve for a much longer period than people thought. We are lucky that we can still afford to pay for Margaret to have private physiotherapy. I notice the lack in improvements among those who can’t.

I realise we have been lucky but I fear for anybody who has the misfortune to have a stroke in Hertfordshire today. Don’t expect the board members of Hertfordshire Community Health trust to do much about it.

Labour leadership: Stormin’ Corbyn winning the new battle of Berkhamsted

BERKHAMSTED CASTLE pPc Credit:geograph-org-uk

BERKHAMSTED CASTLE
Pic Credit:geograph-org-uk

Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire is not known as a centre of left wing radicalism. It has had only two revolutionary moments in its 1000 year history . They were the capitulation of the English to William the Conqueror in 1066 at Berkhamsted Castle and the Battle of Berkhamsted Common in 1866.

The latter was a remarkable story, A wealthy MP, Augustus Smith, was furious that a local landowner had enclosed common land above the town. So rather than just protest he took direct action. As a book, The Short History of Berkhamsted reveals he hired ” a miniature army of Cockney” toughs” and Irish labourers and charted a special train to convey them from Euston to Tring at the dead of night.”

These 120 men armed with crowbars tore down the iron railings overnight and the next day a newspaper reported ” “In carriages, gigs, dogcarts and on foot, gentry, shopkeepers, husbandmen, women and children at once tested the reality of what they saw by strolling over and squatting on the Common and taking away morsels of gorse to prove, as they said) the place was their own again.”

An Act of Parliament later guaranteed the freedom of the Common and Lord Brownlow who had tried to enclose it gave up.

Fast forward to 2015 and another extraordinary revolution seems to be taking place in the town if not the country..At a barbecue organised by the Berkhamsted and Tring branch of South West Herts Labour Party, members are talking about voting for Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, popular with Berkhamsted Labour members

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, popular with   Berkhamsted Labour members

Now Jeremy has not had to bring in Cockney ” toughies” or Irish labourers to prove his point ( though they are many still in his Islington North constituency) but merely appear at local hustings with either other candidates or their representatives.

Both new members of the party and long-standing members are saying they are fed up with Labour apologising for what it stands for and don’t know what the other candidates for the leadership want to do. One lumped Andy Burnham,Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall into the same mould. She described them as vanilla – bland and tasteless with no ideological view of society.

They contrasted this with Corbyn who at least knows what he believes, doesn’t apologise for being a member of the Labour Party and would take the fight to the Tories and revamp the organisation. I saw no sign of entryism ( which the Sunday Times suggests) here among the new members – after all Chorleywood was never a bastion of the Militant Tendency even in its heyday. And John Mann MP is ridiculed for wanting to halt the election.

Angela Eagle Benefiting  from Yvette Cooper's pro women campaign.. Pic credit: The Guardian

Angela Eagle Benefiting from Yvette Cooper’s pro women campaign.. Pic credit: The Guardian

This doesn’t mean that the people  who are going to vote for Corbyn agree with every single policy he stands for – but they seem to want something different from the present, in their words, uninspired rivals. The only pause for thought is whether this will split the party – but the history of the SDP suggests otherwise. And Yvette Cooper’s point about Labour being a club for the boys has made some impact  but not in the way she wants..It has caused people to think of voting for Angela Eagle as deputy to  gender balance their vote for Corbyn. I shall still plump for Tom Watson.

I sense rather like in the run up to the general election in Scotland that something big is happening and is becoming unstoppable. Already neighbouring Hemel Hempstead constituency party has decided to endorse Corbyn and it looked like that grassroots Labour members have suddenly decided they are fed up with the status quo and wants something different..

The impact if Corbyn wins will be game changing. Defeated Labour candidates in some areas are taking the opposite view as this article in The Guardian shows. They see that Labour didn’t take into account the views of working class voters hating scroungers and more immigration. I hear this too from the working class carers who assist my disabled wife. But don’t they realise what these voters want is NO immigration ( Britain is full that’s why public services are bad, they tell me) .They want a ban on foreigners holding British jobs and the ABOLITION of benefits for scroungers. Are Will Straw and Jessica Asato going to stand on a Labour platform banning anybody from abroad working in Britain and the abolition of large swathes of welfare to get their vote? I would be surprised – it would make an interesting article in Left Foot Forward.

Would Will Straw really campaign to stop foreigners getting British jobs to get working class votes?

Would Will Straw really campaign to stop foreigners getting British jobs to get working class votes?

No, Labour has to decide where it stands on all this and then campaign and educate people that it is cuts in public services not more immigrants that is causing a lot of the problem. That is why I am still deciding whether I should take the plunge and back Corbyn or stick with either Cooper or Burnham.

Plebgate comes to the courts

This weekend the Inforrm blog  ran a interesting preview of the start of the so called ” plebgate” libel case in the courts which halted the political career of Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary and chief whip.

The incident became infamous after The Sun published that Mitchell had sworn at the police protecting Downing Street and called them plebs for refusing to open the gates to allow him to wheel his bike through them.

I reproduce their blog below which includes a lot of good references to TV coverage and media articles on the subject.

On Monday 17 November 2014 the most high profile libel trial of the year will begin in Court 13 at 10.30am before Mr Justice Mitting.  This the joint trial of preliminary issues in two claims and is now listed for two weeks (reduced from the original three).

As is well known, the claim arises out of an incident at the gate of Downing Street on 12 September 2012 when words were exchanged between the then Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell MP and a police officer, PC Toby Rowland.  On 21 September 2012, the Sun reported that Mr Mitchell has shouted “you’re fucking plebs“.  This incident became known as “Plebgate“.

On 7 March 2013, Mr Mitchell issued defamation proceedings against the Sun.  It filed a defence on 17 May 2013 pleading justification and a Reynolds defence.  This case gained early notoriety in legal circles because the Master disallowed the whole of the claimant’s costs due to the late filing of a costs budget.  This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal (Mitchell v News Group [2013] EWCA Civ 1537).

On 12 December 2013 PC Rowland issued a libel claim against against Mr Mitchell based on statements made by Mr Mitchell on six occasions between December 2012 and December 2013 in or via the media.  PC Rowland complained that, in these statements, Mr Mitchell accused him of fabricating allegations and evidence against Mr Mitchell, spreading these to the media as part of a plot to frame Mr Mitchell, and deliberately destroying Mr Mitchell’s career.  Mr Mitchell’s Defence is that these allegations are true.

The case has been before the Courts on a number of occasions.  There have been several applications for third party disclosure from the Metropolitan Police in these actions.  Judgments were given on these on 27 March ([2014] EWHC 879 (QB)) and 11 June ([2014] EWHC 1885 (QB)).

On 24 July 2014 Warby J ordered that each of those actions should be tried by a Judge sitting without a jury, and that there should be a joint trial of certain preliminary issues in the actions, starting on 17 November 2014.  Warby J gave a judgment explaining why he had ordered the trial of preliminary issues ([2014] EWHC 2615 (QB)).

In September 2014, the Sun filed an Amended Defence in which it relied on seventeen incidents which, it alleged, showed “high handed and rude” behaviour of Mr Mitchell towards police officers. There was a report of the contents of the Defence in the Press Gazette.

Warby J conducted a pre-trial review on 23 and 24 October 2014 and made orders permitting the parties to rely on expert evidence in phonetics and “field of vision/trajectory analysis” or optometry.  He also refused to exclude the “similar fact evidence” relied on by NGN and PC Rowland concerning other alleged incidents between Mr Mitchell and police officers ([2014] EWHC 3590 (QB)).

Mr Mitchell later filed an Amended Reply in to the Sun’s Amended Defence rebutting itsReynolds defence.  There was a report of the contents of the Amended Reply in the Press Gazette.

Mitting J will try three preliminary issues.  The main ones are, in each action,

  • what natural and ordinary meaning(s) the words complained of bore, and
  • whether in such meaning(s) they were substantially true.

Mr Mitchell is represented by solicitors Atkins Thomson, who have instructed James Price QC and Victoria Jolliffe.  News Group Newspapers are represented by Simons Muirhead and Burton, who have instructed Gavin Millar QC and Adam Wolanski.  PC Rowland is represented by Slater and Gordon LLP, who have instructed Desmond Browne QC and Catrin Evans.

We will have regular reports on the trial.

There was a preview of the trial in Saturday’s Guardian by Owen Bowcott: “Multimillion pound Plebgate libel case comes to court“.

The Channel 4 news item including the CCTV footage of Mr Mitchell leaving Downing Street on the night in question can be viewed here: