By Bill Heaney
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today warned that the new boss of the country’s Scottish Government-owned water company must work hard to earn his vast pay packet.
And to demonstrate this by by driving down the number of sewage discharges which are flowing into Scotland’s rivers and waterways and adhering to th agreement that no bonuses should be paid out unless sewage monitoring increases and sewage discharges decrease.
Scottish Water’s new chief executive Alex Plant has been given a fat cat salary of £295,000 which is £22,500 more than his predecessor was paid.
This huge pay packed was approved despite the Scottish Government’s public sector pay policy setting an “expectation” that there is a 10% reduction in the pay packages of all new chief executive appointments.
In 2022, then Chief Executive Douglas Millican, left, was handed a £92,000 bonus on top of his salary despite Scottish Water figures showing there was a 30% increase in the number of sewage overflow events. In total 14,008 discharges were logged, up from 10,799 incidents in 2021.
Even these vast figures are likely to be significant underestimates because only around 4% of the 3,614 sewage overflows in Scotland’s 31,000-mile sewer network are currently monitored. This contrasts with England, which has 14,470 overflows of which 91% are monitored.
In February it was announced that household water bills were to rise by 5%.
“While there is a need to attract top talent, I find it hard to believe that the only way to find a suitable candidate was to offer almost 10% more than the previous holder of the role received, especially when the Scottish Government is supposed to be trimming back these expensive deals.
“Alex Plant is going to have to work hard for his money. Sewage was discharged into Scotland’s waterways more than 14,000 times last year. It will be his job to ensure that excrement, wet wipes and sanitary towels are not being pumped into the heart of our communities.
“There should be no bonuses for Scottish Water execs until sewage discharges are decreasing. The Scottish-government owned water company must also record and publish all sewage discharges so that we finally have an accurate picture.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see accelerated measures to upgrade our Victorian sewage system and prevent sewage from flowing into our rivers and beaches.”
Meanwhile, a leak from a sewage pipe on the Havoc shore near the Ardoch sewage plant in Dumbarton is polluting the River Clyde, and Scottish Water has been called in to repair it.
Scottish Liberal Democrats have also called for the Scottish Government to record and publish all sewage discharges and deliver legally binding targets to tackle sewage dumping as it emerged civil servants had warned Environment Secretary Mairi McAllan, left, that Scotland faces similar problems to England and Wales.
A freedom of information request from the Daily Express published by the Scottish Government reveals the Environment Secretary asking about differences between Scotland and England. Civil servants confirmed that “Water companies in England and Wales are not doing anything different” before clarifying that “In Scotland we are experiencing similar pressure son some treatment works” and “some pumping of untreated effluent may occur in Scotland.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “The Environment Secretary wanted to be able to say that the approach to sewage in England was fundamentally different, but didn’t get the answer she was hoping for.
“Across Scotland we know there were more than 14,000 sewage spills last year but people are being kept in the dark about the true scale of the problem because so many sewage outlets are unmonitored.
“It’s time the Scottish Government-owned water company recorded and published all sewage discharges so we get a true picture, for legally-binding targets to tackle sewage dumping, and for new measures to upgrade Scotland’s Victorian sewage systems that will protect our rivers and beaches.”
Top picture: Wild flowers growing on the shore near the sewage works at Havoc in Dumbarton.