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New survey reveals a big fall in support for water nationalisation and shows high levels of trust in water companies

There has been a substantial fall in public support for water nationalisation, according to a new survey by polling experts ComRes.

Only two in five (42%) British adults say they support the nationalisation of water and sewerage services in England, with 37% saying they oppose it.

Many commentators use a poll by Populus for the Legatum Institute from September 2017 to claim that 83% of the population supports the idea of the water industry being owned and run by the government. However, this new poll by ComRes, which is the first to test public opinion since the Labour Party set out its policy in more detail in autumn 2018, shows that support for water nationalisation is significantly lower than 83%.

A key part of the Labour Party’s policy is that the vast majority of places on the Boards of nationalised water companies would be held by local councillors and trade unions. The ComRes poll reveals that only one third (33%) of the public say they have any confidence in a combination of local councils and trade unions running the water companies.

In addition to opinions on water nationalisation, the survey shows that trust in water companies remains very high. The poll reveals that nine in ten (90%) British adults trust their water company to provide a reliable service, with the same figure trusting companies to ensure good water quality. Almost as many (88%) say they trust their water company to take away wastewater and sewage and deal with it responsibly, and 81% said they trusted their water company to fix water pipe leaks in public areas.
Poll participants were also asked whether they trusted water companies more or less than other industries or organisations. Around three quarters of British adults say they trust their water companies more than train companies (77%), newspapers (77%), and the Government (74%), with 65% saying they trusted them more than local councils. Almost four in five people (79%) said they trust their water company more than energy companies.

Commenting on the ComRes poll, Water UK Chief Executive Michael Roberts said:

“The high levels of trust in water companies revealed by this research chimes with the high levels of customer satisfaction that we’ve consistently seen over the years. The water industry is delivering for customers, for the environment, and for the communities they serve – cutting leakage, increasing investment, and improving thousands of miles of rivers. The country would risk losing the many improvements made to the water and sewerage service over the last three decades if it was brought into government control, and the big plans the industry has to improve the service even further in the future would be thrown into real doubt. That’s because experience shows that nationalised water services are not at the top of the pile for government spending, and they miss out on funding which goes instead to health, education, pensions and other priorities. It would be a backward step which threatens the environment and puts our water quality at risk.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, added:

“It’s good to see trust in water companies running high, with customers believing they deliver reliability, quality and value for money.

“And it’s clear that, when given the choice, people trust business to provide a better service than local councils and trades unions.
“The idea of renationalisation is no free lunch. It is eye-wateringly expensive, and our priority must be stepping up investment in the UK’s infrastructure itself.”

ComRes, who were commissioned by Water UK to carry out the survey, interviewed 2,034 GB adults aged 18+ online between 15th and 17th February 2019. Data were weighted to be nationally representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

For more information please contact or call 020 7344 1805