21/01/2003

Water service reform needed says NIO Minister

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Angela Smith has said that the current arrangements for water and sewerage delivery would have to be reformed to ensure that future water charges are fair and affordable.

Speaking at the launch the Institution of Civil Engineers’ 'Annual Review of the Infrastructure in Northern Ireland’, Ms Smith referred to the earlier decision by ministers to introduce self-financing arrangements for water and sewerage services, which in principle will mean the introduction of domestic water charges.

The Minister said: “The only alternative to domestic water charges would be substantial cuts in other public services. This is unacceptable, but we will not ask people to pay more than is absolutely necessary.

“I want to ensure that water and sewerage services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible so that the level of water charges borne by households in the future will be reasonable and offer value for money.”

The Minister said that she had travelled to Scotland and Wales in December 2002 to learn more about the organisational arrangements for the delivery of water and sewerage services in both regions.

She added: “Water and sewerage services are delivered by a public corporation in Scotland and by a not-for-profit trust in Wales. The clear lesson from both regions is that reform of the arrangements for water and sewerage delivery is essential if the charges borne by customers are to be fair and affordable.

The Minister concluded by saying that there would be full and inclusive consultation on all proposals for reform of the current financial and structural arrangements for water and sewerage services, including the completion of an equality impact assessment before any decisions are taken on the details for a charging system.

(MB)

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