Tuesday, 4 January 2011

How to pay for Water.

Inevitably, there has been renewed discussions across Northern Ireland about the introduction of Water Rates. Following such a catastrophe as the one we have seen, it is entirely understandable. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a lot of consistency in the arguments I have seen so far. There are those who argue that the crisis is clear evidence that NIW needs more investment, yet often the same commentators highlight NIW's shocking inefficiencies. Throwing good money after bad? They also are happy to use Water authorities in England as a benchmark. As someone who has dealt with some of these authorities and seen first hand the staggering incompetence and inefficiency of some of these outfits, I worry about the logic of aiming to emulate them.

I have seen people say that introducing rates will be fairer and those who are most vulnerable will even end up paying less. Right now they pay for their water through their existing taxes and rates. The only way they will end up paying less is if there is a reduction in those charges. That's not really likely is it?

Advocates of water charges usually argue their case by taking a position that it is the only way to provide much needed investment. That's simply not true. It is just one way of doing so. What I often struggle to get my head around is how many of these advocates are perfectly happy for the NHS to continue being free at point of delivery but not water. The NHS is a massive draw on public funds and is always in vital need of investment so what sets that apart from water? Water, it could easily be argued, is far more important to public health than a state funded health service. 

There are certain things that I think a first world country should ensure all it's people have access to where the cost is met through taxes; Shelter, Heat, Light, Water, Education & Healthcare. Clearly, the vast majority of it's people will reach a point where they can pay for their own Shelter and some choose to pay for their own Education and Healthcare (though still heavily subsidised by the state) but there is always a safety net should times turn bad. 

NIW needs to be overhauled. It needs to be made efficient. If investment is still needed following such changes then that money should come from within the NI budget. There is money being wasted across the board of public bodies that could be saved through efficiencies and redirected where it is really needed. It just makes no sense to raise revenue for a company that quite clearly is not fit to spend it.

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