The Environmental Agency has published the 2021 Environmental Performance Report, providing a summary of England’s nine water and sewerage companies and has concluded that performance across the board was terrible.

Measured against a four-star rating, most were graded lower than previous performance. Four companies (Anglian, Thames, Wessex, Yorkshire Water) were rated only 2 stars, and two (Southern and South West Water) fell to 1 star, meaning their performance was terrible across the board.

The sector’s performance on pollution was particularly shocking, much worse than previous years. Serious pollution incidents increased to 62, the highest total since 2013. There were 8 of the most serious (category 1) incidents, compared with 3 in 2020 and most companies, 7 of the 9, were responsible for an increase in serious incidents compared to 2020.

The Government are now looking to Company Directors to take accountability for the failings and has declared that it intends to ‘make it too painful for them to continue as they are’.

The Environment Agency report states that, since 2015, prosecutions against water companies have secured fines of over £138 million. They pledge to increase inspections of sewage treatment works; insisting that the companies put monitors on all their storm overflows, both on the network and at sewage treatment works and make the data public. The country’s largest ever investigation into environmental crime, looking at whether companies have knowingly and deliberately broken the law in relation to the treatment and discharge of sewage is also underway with criminal prosecutions for repeat offenders on the cards.

The report is clear that the challenge will increase over time to ensure companies achieve better environmental outcomes. Companies cannot be complacent with static performance and expect the same results. The Government invites companies to find innovative ways to meet current and future challenges but is clear that this should not be at the detriment of complying with the law.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, has issued a clear message stating that ‘water companies exist to serve the public. Their environmental performance is a breach of trust.’

The report has been widely welcomed and the message is clear – ‘Enough is Enough’, Those at the helm of the water companies must act or face tough penalties. Quite simply, The Polluter must Pay.

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