Householders already pay for water through the rates. In fact, rates have increased for householders in recent years. Overall, household rates bills will increase by 2.9% this year.
The reasons for the budget deficit have nothing to do with the maintenance of the water service. Financial mismanagement has led to a major drop in forecasted revenue. The Executive had bet that they would reap significant revenue from the sales of public assets and land at inflated prices eg. before the property crash, the Executive had identified £600 million from the sale of land at Crossnacreevy to developers. The collapse of the property boom was caused by greedy developers, bankers and speculators – they should be made to pay for this crisis, not ordinary householders.
Make the rich pay
The rich in Northern Ireland are getting away with millions in unpaid tax. Since 2004, businesses only pay 50% rates on empty commercial properties. This has meant businesses have been subsidised by more than £120 million – money which should have been used to invest in services. Last year, the Executive had the opportunity to end this loophole but decided against it. Landlords are also getting away with not paying rates on empty properties. Every year, £30 million of rates is unpaid as a result of an exemption on empty properties. Because industrial rates are capped, industry only pays 30% of what they are supposed to pay – another huge subsidy to business, which if ended, would raise hundreds of millions per year.
The Assembly Executive should immediately remove the cap on domestic rates for the rich. Presently, there is a cap on rates for those living in properties worth more than £400,000. This means working class people end up paying the bulk of rates rises, while the rich see no rise at all. Workers pay disproportionately far more than the wealthy.
Reverse privatisation of the water service
To date, £220million of public money has been given to private companies (through public-private partnership contracts) to take over the water service. This money, instead of being invested in the water service, has been used to fill the pockets of company executives and shareholders.
InvestNI Chief Executive, Leslie Morrison, was rewarded when he retired, with a severance pay of £175,000 – £180,000, including £26,000 in pension and £6,000 of bonuses. The Executive’s unconditional support for privatisation has not been left un-tainted with the smell of corruption. An investigation has exposed a senior NI Water employee who awarded a contract to a private company, was later awarded when he took a high-ranking job within that company. It has been revealed that the boss of the company had “a long-standing friendship with the NI Water employee”.
Since the water service became partly privatised, two thirds of the workforce has been sacked, resulting in a run down of the service. It is estimated that if the NI Water “GoCo” model was scrapped and the service was brought fully back into public ownership, it would save an extra £50million per year.
The Executive parties are trying to con people that water charges are needed to invest in the service, while they stand over the destruction of the service. The introduction of water charges is still linked to the wholesale privatisation of the service at some point. Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has stated that charges will be about £400 a year to start. Once introduced, water charges will rise. Ordinary householders cannot afford another bill coming through the letterbox. Neither can workers afford rises in rates to pay for the costs of water charges.
Unfortunately, some leaders of the trade union movement are willing to let the Executive parties off the hook by accepting that workers should pay more via the rates. The logic is as unemployed people don’t pay rates, they won’t pay water charges.
While this is true for the unemployed, it would see tens of thousands of low-paid workers forced into further debt and poverty. This would see a 40% increase in rates; in effect a massive wage cut for ordinary workers. This is totally unacceptable. To their shame, this position is also supported by the inactive Communities Against Water Tax, People Before Profit and the Socialist Workers Party.
Non-payment will defeat water charges!
The We Won’t Pay campaign has consistently campaigned on the ground against water charges and has built significant support for mass non-payment. Over 100,000 people have now signed our non-payment pledge. A mass non-payment campaign must be built in every town and village in advance of the Executive imposing water charges. That is how ordinary people can fight back and smash the water charges agenda.