Well, credit where credit is due. This week George Osborne found another £40 million from under the Treasury mattress to renew the £50 per year discount on Cornish water bills in his new spending review. Generally, this has been another tough spending round with more savings having to be made to try to get the country living within its means, so the decision to send another £40 million our way is very welcome.
Earlier this year, every household in Cornwall received a £50 rebate on their bill which, for the average household means a cut of around 7.3%. It must be the first time water bills in the westcountry have bucked the trend and actually gone down. Bills are still high but, at a time when everything else seems to be going up, it is good that at least one bill is definitely going down. 700,000 households in Devon and Cornwall benefited from the discount and a further 13,000 customers are expected to see their bills fall dramatically by over £300 as a result of switching to a water meter.
All of this has been a welcome respite for hard pressed Cornish families but, I have always been clear that we needed this support to continue. A clear aim over the last year has been making sure that the government renewed their support for the discount scheme once the new Comprehensive Spending Review was announced this week, so this confirmation is great news.
For years, people had talked about the problem of high water bills but, throughout the first decade of this century, when money was being spent on all sorts of other things like there was no tomorrow, the last government never found it in its heart to help us. Soon after being elected, I put together some detailed proposals to try to find a solution to the historic injustice of high water bills in the south west. It soon became clear that the problems were quite specific to South West Water which has a small population but looks after water quality over a vast coastline. The company also had to make expensive improvements to its water treatment facilities which we have been paying for ever since. So the discount approach seemed the right solution.
I recognise that many people will still struggle with their water bills despite this cut but there are other ways they might be able to get even more savings. As well as considering a switch to a water meter South West Water also offer something called a “WaterSure” tariff which is a special discount for those with 3 or more children who are on low incomes and receiving some benefits. To find out more look at their website or give them a call on 0800 1691133.
George Eustice can be contacted at George.firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.