HC Deb 22 May 1974 vol 874 cc176-8W
Mr. Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the proportionate increase in water and sewerage charges currently being experienced in the areas now served by the North-west Regional Water Authority; and how this compares with the charges made by the old local authorities.

Mr. Denis Howell

Increases in water supply charges by the North-West Water Authority range from nil to 47 per cent. in respect of water rate poundages and from nil to 46 per cent. in respect of charges by metered quantity. I have no comparable figures for the 1974–75 charge for sewerage, sewage disposal and certain minor services formerly provided by river authorities. There were no charges for sewerage services in 1973–74 separate from the general rate. Comparison of the sewerage charge in 1974–75 with the sewerage element of the general rates in 1973–74, identified on rate demand notes, would suggest a wide range of increases. The best indication of the general increase which ratepayers are being called upon to pay probably lies in the increase of about 51 per cent. in estimated expenditure on these services throughout the region.

Mr. Lomas

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the reasons for the increase in water and sewerage charges since the creation of the new regional water authorities.

Mr. Denis Howell

Levels of water and sewerage charges are primarily a matter for the individual water authorities, subject of course to the provisions of the Price Code. There are, however, a number of general reasons for increases in water services expenditure this year in England which are reflected in water and sewerage charges levied by water authorities. On the information available to me, the most important seems to have been the need for the water authorities to make provision at higher rates of interest for the servicing of debt both on past capital expenditure and on new capital expenditure in 1974–75 to which the authorities have already been committed. The authorities have had to make sufficient provision in their budgets to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations to break even on revenue account and to make adequate allocations to reserve, the whole of which must be recovered by charges under the terms of the Water Act 1973. Most water supply charges have been frozen for two years as a result of the previous administration's counter-inflationary policy, and in the process balances have generally been exhausted. No balances have been taken over for sewerage services. The water authorities are having to start to restore necessary revenue balances as well as to incorporate two years' increases in costs in their budgets. An important factor is the additional expenditure this year arising from water services reorganisation and the establishment of the new administrations.