top of page
  • C4PMC

How United Utilities became the 'Coutts of the Countryside'

Coutts bank is facing an existential crisis and widespread criticism having being found to have wrongly imposed inappropriate 'value judgements' on their customers, after Nigel Farage had his account closed and his bank details revealed.

The scandal has led to the resignation of high-flying Nat West CEO, Alison Rose, and looks set to claim the jobs of more senior executives in the coming days.

As the spotlight is shone on corporate virtue signalling, attention is now on United Utilities and their embattled CEO, Louise Beardmore, after the extraordinary decision to end sporting leases across their land citing 'water quality concerns'.

To put the scandal facing United Utilities in context it is first worth looking at the broader water industry.

In 2021 Welsh Water were in trouble because they had emitted raw, untreated sewage on 3,845 occasions. Even worse the sewage flowed for nearly 20,000 hours. A shocking and unacceptable situation. Obviously a responsible conservation organisation would have difficulty associating with a company with such a record.

Can we assume that, as RSPB is an enthusiastic cheerleader for United Utilities, their performance in their core business of keeping raw sewage out of rivers is better that Welsh Water? Surely we can?

Well no. Actually, United Utilities performance is even worse than Welsh Water but clearly not bad enough to put the RSPB off.

RSPB have championed United Utilities and facilitated the corporate greenwashing to such an extent their Head of Sustainability, Chris Matthews, recently gave a statement on receiving a conservation award saying: “Our water catchment land is situated in some of the most beautiful and sensitive landscapes in the UK. We are acutely aware of the responsibility that goes with this land ownership and we do our best to balance all the needs of water, wildlife, conservation and visitors. We’re incredibly proud of what’s been achieved in partnership with the RSPB at Dove Stone and Haweswater and it’s a real pleasure to see the recognition in this award.”

[Chris Matthews, Head of Sustainability, United Utilities @Twitter]

In the same year that Welsh Water had 3,845 raw sewage emissions, United Utilities had 113,940. To be clear that is one hundred and thirteen thousand, nine hundred and forty occasions when RSPB's chosen partner put raw sewage into a river or stream.

But look on the bright side, as RSPB presumably do, perhaps these incidents were far briefer than the Welsh ones. Well, no. The total period of time that the raw United Utilities sewage flowed untreated into the rivers and streams was nearly three quarters of a million hours of raw sewage - the equivalent of over 80 years.

It is actually very difficult to grasp the scale of the impact United Utilities has had on the aquatic environment of the north west. Perhaps this explains why RSPB didn't notice, that their favoured partner, whose land they manage and for whom they solicit grant funding and donations, was simply engaged in environmental pollution on a scale so vast that they couldn't see it.

Welsh Water is actually not the best comparison in an appalling field, they are the best of a bad lot. It is fair to say that some are a lot worse than Welsh Water, but even then United Utilities are way out in front.

They beat their nearest rival Yorkshire Water by 48,000 emissions, and on hours during which sewage flowed, they beat the runner up Severn Trent by a colossal 167,000 hours. But even this comparison holds no comfort for the RSPB.

Not only does it demonstrate the extraordinary hypocrisy of this self righteous organisation led by Beccy Speight in getting into a lucrative partnership with the worst polluter. It unfortunately demonstrates a pattern of behaviour, akin to a dirty habit, because RSPB have robust and beneficial partnership arrangements with Severn Trent, runner up in the raw sewage stakes.

So as virtue signalling goes, United Utilities' attempt to use grouse shooting as a human shield goes into the same file as Genghis Khan saying he liked kittens.

As for RSPB, they are of course beyond shame but at least we can remember that every time we flush the loo.


bottom of page