Westminster promises action on excessive household water bills
The Government has promised a fresh announcement next week on cutting water bills amid mounting anger among Westcountry families.
Number 10 yesterday insisted that David Cameron "wants to see household costs coming down" and targeting the water industry will be the next stage.
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 not uncommon for families in the region to pay more than £1,000 a year.
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The pledge came after Labour leader Ed Miliband told the Western Morning News this week the water industry "should be scrutinised to make sure it is working properly" – indicating the sector is next in his sights after promising to freeze gas and electricity bills if Labour came to power.
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 still pay more on average than any other part of the country.
The new action to be set out within days is likely to cover customers across England.
Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "Clearly the Prime Minister wants to see household costs coming down.
"There will be some progress next week which Defra will be doing on the water industry and water bills."
The Government had already taken action to freeze council tax bills, limit rail fare rises and cancel increases in the cost of MoTs, he added.
The water regulator Ofwat says it plans to block Thames Water's request to increase customer bills by up to 8% next year.
The spokesman added: "The Prime Minister wants regulators there to look at the industries they regulate and make sure that they are robust and delivering what they need to deliver for customers.
"The Prime Minister realises that families are hard-pressed. He wants to see prices brought down across the board." 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 Government's Water Bill is expected before Parliament shortly. The draft version has promised to allow businesses and the private sector to choose supplier, which ministers hope will engender competition and bring down bills.
The fresh announcement – expected on Wednesday – comes ahead of a House of Commons backbench debate on the reform of the water industry and consumer bills on Tuesday, amid anger "excess profits" are not feeding through to cheaper bills.