Three UK water company bosses decline bonuses after public anger over sewage spills

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They refused sums likely to be over £400k because it is the “right thing to do” and they understand “the strength of feeling about the issues linked to river health”

Three water company bosses have declined bonuses following public anger over sewage pollution in UK rivers and seas, saying it’s the “right thing to do”.

Yorkshire Water’s chief executive Nicola Shaw refused to accept her bonus this year and said she understands “the strength of feeling about the issues linked to river health”.

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The firm was the second worst of England’s nine leading water companies for spilling untreated sewage into waterways last year, spilling raw waste into rivers more than 54,000 times.

Ms Shaw declined what would have been her first bonus since arriving at the company in May 2022. Annual reports show she could have received between £600,000 and £800,000 if the company met its performance targets for the year. Last year the company paid out £878,000 in bonuses to directors.

The water boss said she is “committed to improving Yorkshire Water’s performance” and it is the “right thing to do” to turn down her bonus.

Water firm bosses give up bonuses after anger over sewage spills. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) Water firm bosses give up bonuses after anger over sewage spills. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock)
Water firm bosses give up bonuses after anger over sewage spills. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock

She explained: “Our turnaround plan is already under way: our Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) has improved to a 3* company, we are tunnelling a huge new sewer for Ilkley, and we’ve started an additional £180 million programme of work to improve our storm overflows in the region.

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“Alongside this, we’re building plans for our biggest environmental programme since privatisation.”

Sarah Bentley of Thames Water and Susan Davy of South West Water also declined to accept their bonuses this year. In 2022, Ms Bentley received £496,000 while Ms Davy took £522,000.

Ms Bentley runs Britain’s largest water company, which was responsible for 8,014 sewage spills last year, while South West Water spilled untreated sewage 37,649 times last year.

The two companies were the first to introduce near real-time maps of sewage discharges and both insist work is being done to improve water quality through investments at treatment works and around sewer networks.

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Thames Water’s chief financial officer Alastair Cochran will also skip his bonus for 2022-23, after receiving £298,000 last year.

Emma Clancy, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “We welcome this move by Sarah Bentley and Alastair Cochran at Thames Water.

“Our recent research, Bridging the Gap, shows that bonuses add to people’s current frustration with the water industry and they would like much more openness and transparency on this issue. This announcement shows that people’s concerns are being listened to.”

A House of Lords committee said in March that water bosses should not receive bonuses while their companies are missing targets and polluting the environment.

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It said “a slurry of under-investment, insufficient government strategy, and inadequate coordination” has meant water is not being treated with the care and importance it deserves.

The committee also said regulator Ofwat has failed to ensure companies invest enough money into infrastructure.

Ofwat today announced (Tuesday 9 May) it would be setting water companies targets for curbing storm overflow releases from 2025, and companies would be fined for missing them.

The government has said it is forcing water companies to invest £56 million in updating its infrastructure, much of which is decades old.

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