Article from the Sept 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Privatisation plans leaked

REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT Minister John Spellar announced in August that from April 2006 the water service would be administered by a new 'GoCo' (government-owned company ). This GoCo is in reality another step towards the privatisation of the water service.

By Gary Mulcahy

The new Water GoCo will see the overwhelming load of work contracted out to the private sector. Already lucrative PFI/PPP contracts have been gifted to private companies. Last summer, Spellar announced that 268m worth of contracts would be up for grabs through PPP's.

Privatisation will lead to a worse service and fewer workers with worse pay and conditions. On the same day Spellar announced the GoCo plans, a leaked Government memo was published showing plans to sack 700 water service workers. In Scotland, where a structure similar to a GoCo has been in place since the 90s, more than 1,100 water service workers were sacked in two years.

Every household in Northern Ireland currently pays for water through the rates. 37% of rates goes directly towards the water and sewerage service.

On top of introducing separate water charges of between 400 to 600 a year, the Government are planning to "make above trend increases in regional rates before the introduction of water charges, so that we can moderate the total increases in household bills", (from leaked letter from Secretary of State Paul Murphy to Paul Boateng, Chief Secretary of the Treasury).

Somebody should tell the Government that making above trend increases in rates as well as bringing in water charges will not be seen as moderate by householders struggling to pay the bills as it is.

Predictably, all the mainstream parties have voiced their opposition to water charges and privatisation. However, when they were in power in the Stormont Assembly, they were singing from a different hymnsheet. Before the Assembly fell the four main parties in the Executive had agreed in principal to introduce water charges.

For the main parties to come out in opposition to water charges now, while the Assembly is suspended, stinks of hypocrisy.

The New Labour direct rule Ministers are now frantically putting in place the structure to introduce water charges and to privatise the service. The Water Charges - We Won't Pay Campaign has been going door-to-door signing households to the non-payment pledge. Over 90% of people on the doors are signing the pledge. The campaign is spreading to many areas and is receiving mass support. Local groups will be established over the following months to organise communities to refuse to pay water charges and shout with one voice - "We Won't Pay!"

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