Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader and Finance spokesperson, Jackie Baillie MSP, has written to Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, to urge the Scottish Government to freeze water charges for the next two to three years.
The Scottish Water Industry Commissioner has undertaken a Strategic Review of Water Charges and Ms Baillie understands that above inflation price increases will be recommended to the Scottish Government for the next six years. Whilst understanding the need for investment, Ms Baillie feels that the financial stresses currently being experienced by thousands across Scotland, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, should not be added to by an inflation busting increase in water charges that will hit individuals and businesses hard.
This demand for a freeze of water charges is the latest ask in Baillie’s fight with the Scottish Government to ensure that the cost of water is affordable. Jackie Baillie has previously successfully forced the Scottish Government to scrap plans to remove the single person discount for water.
In 2018, the Scottish Government had intended to reduce or remove the single persons discount from more than half a million people. This would have seen hundreds of thousands of Scots who lived alone – a growing proportion of whom are over 65 – having their 25% water discounts removed. At that time, 944,659 people in Scotland received discounts from Scottish Water which equated to almost £87 million per year.
After a determined one woman campaign, the Scottish Government backed down and Ms Baillie ensured that over half a million Scots were not left in financial difficulty.
Baillie’s current letter to Roseanna Cunningham notes that many people and Scottish businesses will struggle financially as a direct result of Covid-19, but that the full extent of the economic impact will not be known for at least two to three years. She is therefore arguing that the current review of charges – in particular the proposal to increase water charges above the current levels of inflation – should be shelved and that all water charges are frozen until at least the start of the 2023 financial year.
Jackie Baillie MSP said:
“The fact that the Water Industry Commissioner found it acceptable to consider increasing water charges to significantly higher levels than inflation fails to reflect our current circumstances and the struggle that individuals and businesses will face.
“What we currently know about the economic effects of Covid-19 is only the very tip of the iceberg. It is vital that the Scottish Government commits to a complete freeze of water charges for at least the next two to three years until people and businesses across Scotland manage to get back on their feet.
“I was pleased that the Government changed their minds about scrapping the single person water discount. I hope that it considers this proposal. The Scottish Government should commit to a freeze for water charges as this would go a long way in relieving the public and businesses of any increased burden for their water at a time of great financial difficulty.”