United Utilities’ eco pledge in wake of Windermere sewage scandal

United Utilities, the North West water and wastewater group, stressed its focus on protecting the region’s environment in its annual results announcement this morning – days after reports of raw sewage spewing into Lake Windermere for 10 hours.

The Warrington-based group increased revenues in the period to March 31, 2024, up from £1.804bn to £1.949bn. A pre-tax profit of £170m was less than last year’s £256.3m, which included a £31.2m profit on the disposal of a subsidiary.

Net debt rose slightly from £8.2bn to £8.76bn, although chief executive, Louise Beardsmore, said the group has “robust finances”.

Shareholders will receive a final dividend of 33.19p per share, a rise of 9.4%, in line with group policy.

United Utilities said: “The water industry continues to find itself in the spotlight and we recognise that there is significant work to do in restoring public confidence and trust, and improving services for the benefit of customers, communities and the environment.

“We have put forward an ambitious plan to enrich services across the five diverse counties that make up the North West. This would see us invest significantly over the 2020-25 period to deliver the step change we all want to see.”

This week it was revealed that around 10 million litres of raw sewage was illegally pumped into Lake Windermere, one of Cumbria’s biggest tourist attractions, after a fault that took United Utilities 10 hours to respond to.

The pollution happened on the night of February 28. United Utilities did not report the incident to the Environment Agency until 13 hours after it began.

Feargal Sharkey, environmentalist and former rock star, said industry watchdog, the Environment Agency, had “utterly failed” Windermere, adding it is “demonstrating a level of incompetence heaped upon another layer of incompetence”.

In today’s results announcement Louise Beardsmore said: “We take our role in protecting the environment very seriously; our ambitious business plan would see us investing more than ever before to improve services across the five counties of the North West.

“This would deliver a genuine step-change in infrastructure for the benefit of customers and the environment, and support 30,000 jobs.”

She added: “Colleagues have worked exceptionally hard throughout the year to deliver for our customers, communities and the environment.

“As a result, operational performance has been strong, and I am pleased to report that we have met or exceeded around 80% of our regulatory targets, and we have also been ranked as the number one water and sewerage company for customer service in the independent UK Customer Service Index.

“In addition, we are providing over 375,000 customers with affordability support against the backdrop of significant increases in the cost of living.

“Our finances are robust with one of the lowest levels of gearing in the sector.

“We are readying our supply chain, and bringing forward around £400m AMP8 (regulatory period 8) of investment to reduce spills at more than 150 storm overflows, and to accelerate environmental schemes in communities such as Windermere, where we are fast-tracking investment to drive improvements earlier.

“This is on top of the river health improvements we are already delivering through our Better Rivers programme and accelerated environmental improvements funded through reinvestment of our AMP7 outperformance.”

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