Just last year, ten water bosses received bonuses totalling £2.5 million yet raw sewage was discharged an average of 1,090 times a day in the 12 months to November 2023, according to Surfers Against Sewage.
At the same time, companies set out plans to hike consumers’ bills by about £156 per year to pay for investments to prevent 140,000 sewage overflow spills a year.
Regulator Ofwat will be taking forward a consultation to define the criteria for a ban which would apply to all executive board members and Chief Executives. It is expected to come into effect later this year, subject to the consultation.
“No-one should profit from illegal behaviour and it’s time that water company bosses took responsibility for that,” environment secretary Steve Barclay said.
“Tougher action is needed to address poor performance by water companies, which is why I am pleased Ofwat is going further today on bonus payments. In cases where companies have committed criminal breaches there is no justification whatsoever for paying out bonuses. It needs to stop now.”
He added that he would be setting out more detail on further steps to clean up British waters.
The result of Ofwat’s consultation will define key criteria for the policy later this year.
It could include successful prosecution for the two most serious categories of pollution, such as causing significant pollution at a bathing site or conservation area, or where a company has been found guilty of serious management failings, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Campaigners, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have long been calling for the policy.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Steve Reed said: “Once again Labour leads, the Conservatives follow.
“Labour called for the water regulator to be given new powers to block bonuses for polluting water bosses last year. After doing nothing for 14 years, the Conservatives have now been shamed into adopting Labour’s plan.
“But they must go further and back Labour’s whole plan to clean up our rivers, and ensure that executives who are responsible for repeated illegal sewage dumping, face criminal charges.”
Labour has said that under its plans, Ofwat could have blocked six out of nine water bosses’ bonuses last year.
Meanwhile, campaigners took to social media to celebrate the new policy. Surfers Against Sewage wrote on X: “We’re winning this fight. Our pressure is paying. Let’s keep it up #EndSewagePollution”.