Regular readers will be aware that I have a problem with water companies – all of them and not just United Utilities.

When Margaret Thatcher and her government came to power in 1979 privatisation was as a very minor part of its manifesto.

But it rapidly became a central part of its ideology as the 1980s went on. Many industries and utilities that had been nationalised in the Attlee government of 1945-51 were put into private hands including steel, railways, airways, airports and aerospace.

As far as public utilities were concerned, gas, electricity, telecoms and water were all ripe for the picking.

I’ve said it before but it stands repeating, out of all the public services privatised the one that causes me the greatest angst is water.

My reason for this that with the vast majority of the other privatised industries and utilities, there is an element of competition that theoretically should help to keep down prices for consumers.

But that isn’t the case with water which is, in effect a local monopoly. Of course, water companies have been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons and have been criticised in many quarters for failing to deal with the ‘storm overflow’ issue that has seen raw, untreated sewage being discharged into our rivers and seas.

Which brings me on to United Utilities, the company which supplies more than three million homes and 200,000 businesses across the northwest of England, from Carlisle to Crewe.

According to, it had the unenviable title of England’s most polluting water company last year, according to Environment Agency data.

It is only a couple of weeks ago that English water companies apologised for repeated sewage spills and pledged to invest £10 billionn this decade in an attempt to deal with the untreated sewage issue that has caused so much public anger over pollution in seas and rivers.

The companies say they will triple their existing investment plans and put money into the biggest modernisation of sewers ‘since the Victorian era’ to reduce spills of overflowing sewage into England’s waterways.

Industry body Water UK said the plans will cut the number of overflow incidents by up to 140,000 each year by 2030, compared with 2020.

Environment Agency figures earlier this year showed there were a total of 301,091 sewage spills in 2022, an average of 824 a day.

All this investment sounds great, doesn’t it? So how is it going to be paid for? Well in the first instance, shareholders in water companies will fund the investments.

But, and it’s a big but, you and me will end up paying because the costs will be recouped from customers through unspecified increases in their bills determined by regulators.

Happy days. Just what we all needed in the face of the worst cost of living crisis in a generation, having to pay more to our water companies so they can do a job they should have been doing all along before things got so bad.

Water UK, which represents 25 companies across the UK, issued an apology on behalf of its English companies and said the public was 'right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches'.

OK. I get it. They’re sorry for pumping poo into our rivers but just how sorry are they. Are they sorry enough to forgo their shareholder dividends perhaps?

Well apparently they’re not that sorry as last week, United Utilities announced it was going to pay shareholders £300 million despite all the public anger over leaks and pollution.

But it’s not just United Utilities. The announcement came just a day after Severn Trent, one of Britain’s biggest water companies, also raised its dividend to £261 million. Together, the two FTSE 100 water companies will have paid more than £560 million to their investors over the past year.

I very much think I’m with Tim Farron, environmental spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, who told the decision to pay such dividends was ‘madness’, adding: “United Utilities are making a mockery by destroying our precious lakes and rivers with sewage, all while handing out bumper dividends.

“The system is broken when their execs and shareholders are rewarded with millions of pounds for destroying the environment.”

Farron called on ministers to demand answers, adding: “This £300 million should have been spent on preventing sewage polluting the Lake District and region’s rivers.”

Well said, Mr Farron. Well said.