A week is a long time in politics..
But it still took former Secretary of State, George Eustice seven months to reply to our letters about the failure of the Storm Overflow Assessment Framework (SOAF) - the thing that was supposedly designed to identify and rectify failing sewage overfllows.
Well, it turned out unsurprisingly that the mechanism, which we discovered was really put together by the water industry itself, served; guess who?
Correct, it made sure that nothing happened that involved the water industry spending money on fixing illegal pollution for about 4 years to date. A big feature in that dodge were the cost-benefit calculations that decided we could keep putting up with pollution as it was always too expensive for the water industry to fix.
Skip the docs if you are tight on time - the story will still make sense. Or dive in.
WASP's review of the SOAF.
In a bizarre response from a presumably rushed team at the office of the hurriedly displaced Secretary of State who helped deliver the laughably self-acclaimed world-leading (in protecting shareholders perhaps) Environment Act, we were told that we were right.
To put it simply - and please do read the attached response in full if you enjoy that sort of thing - it is refreshingly brief, the framework had failed and the prioritisation of money was a big factor but that didn't matter now because it would not feature in future decisions.
The reply mentions revising the dreadful SOAF to facilitate (or more likely stifle) the new Storm Overflow Reduction Plan - here is the key comment: 'Targets within the Storm Overflow Reduction Plan do not require the cost-benefit test to be fulfilled and this major obstacle has therefore been removed.'
This would be remarkable and rather encouraging if it were true, but of course, as we are unfortunately now accustomed to discovering when dealing with our government, it isn't.
The first stop to check the veracity of the comment is of course the plan which goes on a bit - to 2050 in fact but is also quite wordy so here is the link if you wish - and here are a few extracts which put the record straight.
Page 13. 'Ofwat will assess companies’ plans for efficiency and ensure water company proposals deliver best value for their customers and the environment.' Here we go again
Page 14. 'It is also the case that current global circumstances are impacting the cost of living, and we must continue to keep this, and water bill increases, under close review. We will ensure that investment remains affordable.' (protect the shareholder - it seems pollution has to be kept profitable.)
There are others but the final and most contradictory extract we will leave you with is from page 19: Traditional solutions to reduce discharges, such as increasing storage capacity, are carbon intensive. The costs and benefits of such interventions must be considered in decision-making.
You get the picture - the response is utter nonsense and nothing is changing but we have a new Secretary of State - the one that just announced he has raised the cap on Variable Monetary Penalties to £250M so that the Environment Agency can impose massive fines on water companies without going to court. Again that could be good if it was true - now you know where this is heading..
Just one problem, uncovered by WASP and a Guardian and ENDS Report Journalist, Rachel Salvidge - the penalties have never been used against water companies, for good reason and the second part of that is breaking news....
This was part 1 of the expose' in the Guardian if you missed it.