Solent suffers while Southern Water profits

The sorry saga of untreated sewage dumped in the Solent came to a head this week in the Canterbury Crown Court.  Southern Water had pleaded guilty to 71 violations over 6 years – including 8,400 illegal discharges – with the cover ups sanctioned at a senior level.

Some will claim that this is an example of the regulator doing its job – and others will point out that they were too easily fooled by a company whose top priority was to maximise shareholder profits.

Either way the saga stinks – and now, in 2021, we can finally look forward to the sentencing later this week for crimes committed before 2015.   Will the punishment be enough to stop further discharges?

And the Contaminated Crustacean Award goes to . .

Elephant in the counting room

The major question – ‘the elephant in the room’ – at Fareham Council’s budget meeting last week was:  How can we remedy the Central Government’s damage?  And the most cohesive answer was provided by Cllr. Roger Price – Leader of Fareham’s Liberal Democrat Group.

He told councillors: “This Conservative government has made it impossible for this council to provide the services Fareham residents want.”

For Fareham, three issues rise above all other complaints of centralised incompetence:

  • Major Environmental Improvements – an all-party concern, with scope for wider public involvement in policy development – particularly by engaging with young people and climate-change activists.
  • Housing – working to overcome glaring contradictions in Whitehall’s policies so that we can retain vital green spaces between communities.  The health of residents, the economy and our environment, is also an all-party concern.
  • Reviewing the value of the Council’s office space – yet another all-Party concern that could save money and improve our effectiveness.

These three areas of concern provide scope for action with broad appeal beyond party politics.  The real test will come when firm proposals emerge, but the agenda for progressive policy development will depend on the results of the elections next May.

See Roger’s full speech.

Your future is in the post

If you watched BBC News South Today last week you may have noticed that the show ran a segment about the local elections scheduled for next May – and whether they might be cancelled.

South Today was not alone. Media outlets, Press, TV and Radio, across the UK all had this topic injected into their editorial priorities. A quick Google News search shows a remarkable uniformity of timing and content.

Most of these reports sought to reassure people that a further delay would not happen. But this sudden media attention (and a question in Parliament) served to test the strength of the democratic barricades.

The editorial line taken by the BBC was that the May elections might possibly be further delayed, and the government has already decided against an all-Postal vote – apparently out of an NHS-like concern for the Royal Mail.

Some outlets dutifully included concerns about voter fraud despite all-postal trials showing the scope for a reduction of the already miniscule problem. So now we’ve all been forewarned – put on notice of potential cancellation.

There is a crazy logic behind all this that would certainly appeal to this government. They’ll have the cover of a ready-made health excuse and a certain enthusiasm to avoid voter judgement on Brexit outcomes or their management of pandemic responses.

Next November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow is being primed to present the UK’s global climate credentials – despite the fact that they failed last week to block the creation of a new coal mine in Cumbria.

Make no mistake – these local elections are hugely important. Registration for Postal Voting is picking up and your Council’s Democratic Services department is already thinking through how the process can be made safe.

It may be just a Local election. It may be that no more than the usual 40% might bother to vote. It may be that central government can see no harm in delay. It may be that they think that the ‘branch offices’ are a giant waste of money and get in the way of cosy deals with developers.

But this is also the first opportunity that our communities will have to demand better local governance as an antidote to overcentralisation. If not already registered for a Postal Vote, get your application in now – before it’s too late.