Anyone who lives in the South West can argue that they get a raw deal. Not only are the average salaries in this region lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom, but their water bills are 40% higher than those elsewhere in England and Wales. South West Water is the only provider of water in the South West and hence there are no other competitors that households or businesses can switch to, despite the extortionate prices.
Many households and businesses in the region are struggling to cope with the unfair bills, as people are forced to sacrifice other things in order to find the money. Furthermore, it can be argued that these higher bills are actually used for the benefit of everyone else in the United Kingdom. Since privatisation, South West Water are responsible for cleaning and maintaining over one third of the UK’s beaches and the prices they are charged by SW Water reflect this £2 billion cost. Moreover, with a relatively low population, this large cost cannot be spread across many people. Instead, the small population has to pay larger bills. A hairdresser, who does use a lot of water, is finding herself crippled by water bills of some £2,500. And this bill will pay to clean the beaches in the South West so that people living elsewhere can benefit from the beautiful surroundings.
There is now wide recognition of how unfair this scenario is and proposals have been suggested, ranging from a government grant (hardly likely given the state of public finances) to a levy on other regions’ bills to compensate SW Water for their clean-up costs. However, no decision has been made about how to progress and so for now, residents of the region must just simply grin and bear it, while sacrificing expenditure on other areas and seeing residents from across the UK benefit from their sacrifice.
P.S. If you hadn’t guessed it, yes I do live in the South West!
Why is water so expensive in the South West? BBC News (13/7/10)
North Devon MP Nick Harvey tackles unfair South West Water charges Barnstaple People (14/7/10)
- What is privatisation? Assess the advantages and disadvantages of the privatisation of water some 20 years ago.
- Does South West Water have a monopoly?
- Which of the 3 proposals is the most beneficial to those a) living in the South West, b) businesses in the South West c) the government and d) the rest of the country?
- Which proposal would you recommend and why?
- Is it fair that those in the South West should pay disproportionately more to clean and maintain beaches, which are used by everyone?
- Is the concept of market failure relevant in this case? Explain your answer.