Shropshire Star

General Election: North Shropshire's Green and Reform candidates find unlikely agreement at hustings

Energy bills and action on the environment took centre stage in Market Drayton as members of the public grilled North Shropshire’s parliamentary hopefuls.

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With just over two weeks before polling opens for the general election, five parliamentary candidates went head-to-head on Monday night on a range of topics including energy security, the cost of living crisis and sewage dumping.

And while the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates promised action on energy security and harsher levies on polluting water companies, the Green and Reform candidates found themselves in an unlikely agreement on re-nationalisation as a key part of resolving the country’s converging utility crises.

“Railways, water companies and the big five energy companies are in our manifesto to be renationalised,” said Green Party candidate Craig Emery.

“Quite frankly it’s a disgrace that Severn Trent where I live have paid out the highest amount of dividends out of all the water companies and we can see how much they’ve pumped into the rivers and seas.”

Reform candidate Mark Whittle said his party was also committed to reforming utilities, with a party manifesto pledge to bring 50 per cent of each company into public ownership, with the remaining 50 per cent owned by UK pension funds, announced earlier in the day.

“We would take over these electricity companies, gas companies, power companies, water companies – the government would run them. We have a 100-day charter that would start the ball rolling,” he said.

“I’m not blaming [the Labour or Conservative parties], I’m blaming both, every time something has gone wrong nationally... nobody is punished, they just say ‘oh well’ and the managers just pass it along.

“Nationalisation for Reform is how it would be done. No middle man, we just go for it.”

Meanwhile the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates agreed that tougher action was required on water companies, as well as reducing the country’s dependence on foreign gas imports.

Helen Morgan said the Liberal Democrats would force water companies to become public benefit organisations, describing the state of the nation’s waterways as a “national disgrace”.

“The profits that they make need to be reinvested back into the infrastructure so we can sort out this problem of illegal sewage dumping, but we also need to get rid of [water regulator] OFWAT.

“We need to replace it with a clean water authority with the legislative teeth to deal with the issue that we’ve got."

On energy, she added that the country was “too dependent” on gas, and needs to invest more heavily in renewable energy sources.

Conservative candidate Simon Baynes defended the Government’s record on tackling sewage dumping in rivers, and said discussions around ownership of utilities was “not necessarily” the issue.

“It’s interesting to look at the situation in Wales, where the water company Dwr Cymru is a not-for-profit organisation and its record in terms of environmental control is actually worse than virtually every company in England,” he said.

“We are going to be tougher on water pollution in terms of fines and we’ve levied over £150m in fines on the companies that are causing these problems, we’re working with the regulators to hold water companies to account including banning bonuses if a company has committed a criminal breach.”

Labour candidate Natalie Rowley said 14 years of Conservative government was responsible for the state of the country’s waterways, promising tougher penalties for breaches.

“We need to hold our private water companies to account and make sure when they violate the regulations they are fined and they don’t do it again,” she said, before adding on energy security that a Labour plan to create an investment vehicle known as GB Energy would reduce household bills.

“Labour’s plan to switch on GB energy will tackle the security of our energy in Britain and we won’t be relying on foreign dictators for our energy any more. It will bring jobs to the UK and more importantly people’s bills will be lower,” she said.

Independent candidate Samuel Cladingbowl was not present for the debate.