A supposed “miscalculation” by NI Water could lead to a 15 per cent or £20 million increase in the domestic water bill this year; resulting in an extra £30 being added to the average household bill.
NI Water claimed that it had overestimated the amount of revenue it would raise from commercial customers. It also pointed to a number of high profile industrial closures, such as the Seagate factory in Limavady, as an additional reason for the shortfall. As a result it had carry out an internal ‘re-balancing' exercise that shifted the burden of liability for water and sewage costs onto householders.
The arguments and figures used by NI Water are very dubious. There is no evidence of a decline in commercial customers so great as to produce a £20 million annual deficit. This is just a smokescreen for shifting the costs of water and sewage from business onto householders. It fits in with the general thrust of Government towards provision of public services - of transferring resources from labour to capital, from one class of people to another. Generally, the main mechanism for this has been privatisation and the introduction of user charges. In the specific case of water it has been the creation of NI Water and the introduction of a separate water charge.
All this was contained in the water reform proposals put forward by the British Government and inherited by the Executive. It was never clear what contribution commercial customers were going to make. Now we know it is going to be less than they paid under the Water Service; and that householders are going to have to pick up the bill.
This revelation also blows a hole in the recommendations of the Independent Review Panel, which were based on the old estimates from NI Water. The Executive hoped that adopting its proposals of delaying charges for a year, reducing slightly the amount people would be charged and extending relief would dampen down any opposition and buy them some time on the issue. This is despite the fact that all the Panel’s proposals were based on the unlikely premise that NI Water could make 40 per cent cost savings. The latest revelation from the company makes delivery on even these meagre concessions impossible.