Water firms were accused last night of leaving customers ‘high and dry’ by failing to prevent a surge of burst pipes.
Tens of thousands of families were left without water after parts of the mains network collapsed.
Ofwat, which regulates the industry, said some companies had fallen well short in planning for the icy ‘Beast from the East’. As the crisis continued:
- Dozens of schools were closed because they had no water supply;
- Jaguar Land Rover halted production to conserve supplies to homes and families;
- Cadbury also shut down its Birmingham factory when its taps ran dry;
- In London, customers queued for bottled water at emergency distribution centres;
- Water bowsers were stationed at sites in the South-West, Wales and Manchester;
- Suppliers repeated a call for customers to ration their consumption.
Meanwhile it was revealed that some utility chiefs enjoy pay deals of more than £2million a year while thousands of consumers suffer.
Water firms were accused last night of leaving customers ‘high and dry’ by failing to prevent a surge of burst pipes. Pictured: A volunteer from South East Water in Lenham, Kent
Rachel Fletcher, who heads Ofwat, said firms should have been prepared because the extreme weather had been forecast.
‘A number of water companies appear to have fallen well short on their forward planning and the quality of support and communication they’ve been providing, leaving some customers high and dry,’ she added.
‘Everyone’s number one priority must be getting the water flowing as quickly as possible and ensuring that all customers – in particular those in vulnerable circumstances – get the support they need.
‘When the taps are back on, we will take a long, hard look at what has happened here. We won’t hesitate to intervene if we find that companies have not had the right structures and mechanisms in place to be resilient.’
Customers of Britain’s biggest supplier, Thames Water, were among the worst affected. It was already being investigated by Ofwat over allegations it had not done enough to safeguard water supplies and tackle leaks.
A hospital in South London was so desperate that it asked the firm for 500 bottles of water for patients on Sunday.
Twitter was full of complaints. One user said: ‘48 hours without a proper wash now and no clean shirts for work tomorrow! Worst customer services I have experienced in a long time!’ Another said: ‘There’s no water in North London and Thames Water is handing out bottles like it’s a Third World country.’
Tens of thousands of families were left without water after parts of the mains network collapsed. Pictured: A water station set up by Thames Water in Streatham Vale, South London
Customers reported that bottled water stations set up in South London ran out of supplies. One tweeted: ‘Shocking. You ran out of water at SW12 station a while ago and my elderly father is among many waiting in a queue for another delivery.’
Severn Trent, which serves the Midlands and west of England, said it had seen a 4,000 per cent increase in burst pipe call-outs. In an attempt to stop household taps running dry, it asked Jaguar Land Rover to halt production at its factory in Solihull.
Severn Trent said: ‘Due to the recent thaw we’ve experienced, our teams are dealing with a huge number of burst pipes across our region which is putting pressure on our network. We’ve worked closely with Jaguar Land Rover which has agreed to stop production to help us target our supply.’
Water companies serving millions of customers in the south of England have asked customers to ration water use. They called on families to take short showers rather than baths and only to run washing machines and dishwashers when they are full. At one point, 20,000 homes in the Thames Water area were cut off.
The figure was down to 10,000 by yesterday lunchtime as mains pipes were repaired and the company pumped an extra 500million litres of water into the network.
In a statement Thames said: ‘We’re sorry to all those customers who are without water. We know how infuriating this is and want to assure them that the whole company is working flat out to fix the problems.’
A woman collects bottled water from Exwick, Exeter, after homes in the area were affected by mains water supply issues
Southern Water said it was working to restore supplies to up to 5,000 homes in Kent. It urged customers to ‘only use the water you absolutely must’.
Welsh Water said that around 4,500 properties were without water at Monday lunchtime.
In Rotherfield, East Sussex, residents queued for water and one of them, Ed Patterson, even took some from a stream to flush his lavatory.
South West Water sent in bowsers to five locations in North Devon where households had been left without water since Friday morning. Several schools in Cornwall closed because of burst pipes, and hundreds of homes in Stockport were left without water due to a burst main.
Affinity Water said 1,000 households it serves in the Barnet area of London were without water yesterday morning. Scottish Water said it had not yet seen the same rapid thaw that caused problems elsewhere.
A Cadbury spokesman said: ‘While we have no water supply to our manufacturing site in Bournville, our supply of chocolate is not immediately impacted as we have sufficient stock available to manage through this hopefully short disruption.’
Michael Roberts, of the industry body Water UK, said: ‘We are sorry that the effects of the extreme weather are causing many customers serious difficulties. We want to let those customers know that water companies are working as hard as they can to stabilise the situation.’
Families left without water may wonder whether cash that could have upgraded the network has gone to chief executives instead. Here are the big earners:
Liv Garfield (£2.45m)
Miss Garfield, a 42-year-old mother of two, is one of only eight chief executives at FTSE 100 firms. A Yorkshire-born Cambridge graduate, she previously worked at BT Openreach in charge of rolling out super-fast fibre broadband. She is understood to have a £5,500,000 London home.
Steve Mogford of United Utilities (pictured), who previously worked at BAE Systems, is on a £2.3million deal
Steve Mogford (£2.3m)
Before joining United, the 61-year-old spent 30 years at BAE Systems overseeing the controversial Al Yamamah programme, an arms-for-oil deal with Saudi Arabia. In 2017, United was fined £300,000 for contaminating supplies to more than 700,000 people. Lancashire residents had to boil their water when cryptosporidium was discovered.
Steve Robertson (up to £2.1m)
Mr Robertson, 59, has been tasked with cleaning up Thames Water’s image following criticism about it paying no corporate tax since 2006 while handing large dividends to shareholders. The company has pledged to close down its subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, which it insists serve no tax benefit. Thames is owned by a group of funds including one for Canadian public servants.
Peter Simpson (£1.5m)
Mr Simpson, 51, was paid £1.5million during 2016/17, including a £533,328 bonus and £480,000 salary. He earned £2.3million the year before. Anglian Water is owned by a consortium of investors including institutions in Australia and Canada. It has a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.
Richard Flint (£1.32M)
Mr Flint, 49, joined Yorkshire Water as a graduate trainee after studying politics at York University. His firm has also come under fire for Cayman Island subsidiaries, which it plans to close. The company serves 2.3million households in Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
Christopher Loughlin (£1.3m)
Mr Loughlin was chief executive of South West Water before being appointed boss of Pennon, its parent company, in 2015. A former senior diplomat in the British embassy in Tokyo, the 65-year-old is also chairman of trade body British Water.
Colin Skellett (£911,000)
Mr Skellett has headed Wessex since 1989 and was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of having taken a bribe. He was cleared six months later. The son of an electricity board meter reader, he started working at a sewage plant before going to university and securing a job as a chemist with Bath City Council. The 72-year-old lives in a house on the outskirts of the city where it is thought properties can fetch around £2million
Heidi Mottram of Northumbrian Water (pictured) was paid £734,000 in 2017
Heidi Mottram (£734,000)
Miss Mottram, 52, spent most of her career in rail before joining Northumbrian in April 2010. She was paid £734,000 in 2017 including a salary of £350,000 and bonus of £210,000. She lives in a £1,260,000 house in York.
Paul Butler (£418,000)
SOUTH EAST WATER
Mr Butler, 56, was paid £418,000 in 2017, including salary of £240,000 and bonus of £115,000. The firm also has a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.
Mel Karam (£230,000)
The former KMPG consultancy employee was appointed in mid-2017 on a base salary of £230,000. The 55-year-old is married and loves scuba-diving and motorsports. Bristol Water serves 1.1million customers.
Ian McAulay (£203,000)
Mr McAulay, 52, joined Southern as chief executive in January 2017 and was paid £202,900 including a bonus of £68,200 uo to April. His predecessor, Matthew Wright, 53, was paid £873,000 for 2016/17. The firm serves 4.6million customers across the South East.