Water companies will be next to face a grilling - Milliband
Ed Miliband has signalled water companies will be next in the dock as part of Labour's campaign to tackle the cost- of-living "crisis".
The Labour leader, who has promised a 20-month freeze on soaring energy bills if his party wins the election, told the Western Morning News the water industry "should be scrutinised to make sure it is working properly".
Bills for South West Water customers are the highest in the country at £499 a year on average – around £150 more than what Londoners pay. But it is common for families in the region to pay more than £1,000 a year.
Asked by the Western Morning News, at an event for regional journalists in Westminster, whether water companies would be tackled next, Mr Miliband said: "I think we should be looking at all markets to make sure they are working properly and that includes the water industry.
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"Some people will say this is an anti-business agenda. I think it is a pro-business agenda that you have got to reform markets that are not working properly.
"I think the water industry is something that should be scrutinised to make sure it is working properly and make sure it is working properly for the benefit of consumers, because I know concerns have been raised. I'm proud Labour is championing this agenda and I think it is consistent with believing what a market economy can do, and water is part of that."
At the Labour Party conference in September, Mr Miliband announced the energy freeze would save the typical household £120 and an average business £1,800 between May 2015 and January 2017. The policy pledge, if enacted, would provide time to reform the sector to keep bills down permanently amid claims customers have been paying £3.9 billion a year over the odds for their gas and electricity, Labour says.
And while the Government has dismissed the promise as an unworkable "con", it has changed the political weather. David Cameron has since promised a review of so-called green levies which add £60, or 9%, to an energy bill.
Bosses of the "Big Six" energy companies were this week hauled before MPs to explain why bills are going up at a faster rate than the cost of charges.
Now the Labour leader has suggested water companies will face a similarly thorough examination.
South West Water bills are so high thanks to botched water privatisation in the 1980s that left 3% of the population paying for the upkeep of one-third of the country's coastline and beaches.
The steep charge is the legacy of the company paying £2 billion to end raw sewage being dumped into the sea.
The coalition Government has delivered a £50 a year taxpayer-funded subsidy to bring down South West Water bills – but despite the hand-out householders in the region on average pay more than any other part of the country.
Unlike the energy sector, however, water customers cannot switch provider to get a better deal.
The Government's Water Bill is expected before Parliament shortly. The draft version has promised to allow business and the private sector to choose supplier, which ministers hope will engender competition and bring down bills.
The Ofwat watchdog is also to be given more power to ensure companies are not overcharging customers.
The water regulator says it plans to block Thames Water's request to increase customer bills by up to 8% next year.