Britain’s biggest water companies have come under the spotlight as the nation swelters during what could become the worst drought in 500 years, with hosepipe bans introduced across much of England in an attempt to fend off shortages.
Anger is growing over the huge sums handed to their shareholders and executives, given the companies’ record on tackling leaks and pollution and their failure to build more reservoirs. Politicians and campaigners are calling for water company bosses to have their bonuses banned until they tackle these issues.
The bosses of England’s privatised water companies have been criticised for banking £58m in pay and benefits over the last five years. Since privatisation, shareholders have been paid £72bn in dividends. The cash came from big debts, with companies borrowing £56bn, and big bills, with prices rising 40%. So how much exactly are the different companies are their bosses being paid?
Area: Greater London, parts of Kent, Essex and Gloucestershire
Chief executive: Sarah Bentley
Tenure: September 2020-present
Bentley landed £2m in pay and bonuses last year. She held senior roles at the telecoms giant BT, the consultancy Accenture and Severn Trent Waterbefore joining Thames Water with a £3.1m “golden hello”, including two £727,000 one-off payments. Last year, the firm was fined £4m for discharging raw sewage in two Oxford streams.
Area: East of England including Norfolk and Cambridgeshire
Chief executive: Peter Simpson
Simpson has led the group for nearly a decade, and was its managing director before that. He is a past president of the Institute of Water and faced criticism last month when the Guardian revealed he had landed a £337,651 bonus despite the company notching up one of the worst pollution records in the industry.
Area: Stretches from the Bristol Channel to the Humber, and from mid-Wales to the east Midlands
Chief executive: Liv Garfield
Garfield was previously chief executive of BT’s infrastructure arm, Openreach. The Everton fan has said she is not a fan of hot spells, and that “the best weather for water companies is 17 degrees and drizzling”. The firm was fined £1.5m for dumping sewage in Worcestershire last year.
Area: South-west England
Chief executive: Susan Davy
Davy joined the group as finance director of South West Water, which Pennon owns, in 2007 becoming group finance chief and then group boss. She has said she became aware of the water industry when the mid-1990s drought brought about concerns over water rationing. She entered the industry as a junior accountant at Yorkshire Water. South West Water has faced criticism over pollution levels affecting the Cornwall and Devon beaches.
Area: Parts of south-west England including Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire
Chief executive: Colin Skellet
Pay: £975,000 last year
Skellett is a scientist and engineer who in 1989 took the company through privatisation. Wessex Water has issued a warning about “non-essential” water use and he has a 40ft swimming pool at his home in a village outside Bath, thought to be worth more than £3m. Wessex Water paid out £975,000 over raw sewage spills in Dorset in 2018.
Area: North-west England
Chief executive: Steve Mogford
Mogford spent his early career in the aerospace and defence industry, including roles at British Aerospace, BAE Systems and SELEX Galileo, where he was chief executive. He is set to retire in 2023, when he will be succeeded by the customer service and people director, Louise Beardmore, meaning all but one of the top jobs at the UK’s FTSE-listed water companies will be held by women.
Area: North-east England, Essex, Suffolk
Chief executive: Heidi Mottram
Mottram is CEO of Northhumbrian Water Group, which includes Essex and Suffolk Water. She was awarded an OBE in 2010 for services to the rail industry and a CBE in 2018 for services to the water industry and business community. In January, she offered a “personal and sincere” apology after a worker nearly lost a leg when he was struck by a 1.5-tonne pipe. The company was fined £365,000 over the incident.
Area: Hampshire, West Sussex, Isle of Wight, parts of Kent
Chief executive: Lawrence Gosden
Tenure: 1 July-present
Gosden has recently taken over from Ian McAulay, who is retiring at the end of the year and who took home more than £1m last year. Gosden started his career at Southern as a graduate and spent 12 years at Thames Water. Last year Southern was fined a record £90m for deliberately pouring sewage into the sea.
Area: Yorkshire, north Lincolnshire, Derbyshire
Chief executive: Nicola Shaw
Tenure: 9 May-present
Shaw took over from Liz Barber earlier this year. The former National Grid UK executive director, who was also boss of High Speed 1, is likely to receive similar pay to her predecessor, who received £1.4m.
Chief executive: Douglas Millican
Millican was finance and regulation director since Scottish Water, a publicly owned entity, from when it was formed in 2002 until taking the reins nine years ago. Executives at the firm were criticised for receiving a £10,000 “car benefit” during the pandemic. Last year, the company was fined £6,700 after admitting an incident of water pollution in which at least 500 fish died.
Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water
Chief executive: Peter Perry
The company has 3 million customers and is run on a not-for-profit basis. However, Perry’s firm has been told to take action after an increase in pollution incidents. Perry is a water industry lifer, having held roles with United Utilities in Scotland and Ireland.
Northern Ireland Water
Area: Northern Ireland
Chief executive: Sara Venning
Northern Ireland Water has never been privatised, leaving Venning with a salary that – while high compared with the average UK wage – is modest by industry standards. The former Northern Ireland Electricity executive’s first job was at her grandfather’s clothes shop, Eastwoods Clothing Co in Cookstown, County Tyrone.