Environment

‘Record’ fine imposed on polluter is just 0.3% of pre-tax profits

The 'record’ fine imposed on a company for water pollution is just 0.3% of pre-tax profits, campaigners have claimed.

The record fine imposed on South West Water for pumping sewage into rivers amounts to just 0.3 percent of the company’s pre-tax profits.

The record fine imposed on South West Water for pumping sewage into rivers amounts to just 0.3 per cent of the company’s pre-tax profits. That’s a smaller percentage of annual income than a littering fine would be for the average UK earner.

Courts will “no longer tolerate” water pollution, District Judge Joanna Matson told SWW as she imposed a £2.1 million fee on the provider following years of environmental breaches. It might sound like a high price to pay. But is it really?

According to campaign group River Action, South West Water made pre-tax profits of £702.4 million between 2016 and 2020. The fine is equivalent to 0.3 percent of those profits.

How much do South West Water have to pay?

SWW mismanagement and water pollution caused “significant environmental damage,” the court said.

Incidents include pumping sewage into a local river for more than 35 hours, killing thousands of fish with an accidental chemical spill, and allowing E.coli levels to spike 2,000 times higher than the ‘poor’ rating at a local beach. 

But in terms of ratio to income, this penalty is less severe than the fines imposed on ordinary people for littering. 0.3 per cent of the average UK salary – £28,000 per year – is £84. But If police saw you drop a bit of rubbish, you could be fined £150, roughly 0.53 percent of the annual UK salary.

A fine may stop a serial litterbug from dropping trash. But it’s unclear whether the fine imposed on South West Water will make a meaningful difference, says Amy Slack, Campaigns Manager, River Action.

“Today South West Water have been held to account for illegal discharges and blatant ecocide. But fines must be meaningful and have a nasty sting in the tail to be impactful,” she warns.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Campaigners have questioned whether the fee would be directed to the right place.

 “The money will be lost in the black hole of the treasury rather than restoring the environments that have been destroyed,” Slack said.

“A decade of cuts to environmental regulators has seen the environment agency budgets slashed by 70% leaving them crippled and unable to hold polluters to account.”

River Action network called on the government to increase funding of regulators and to invest penalty revenue into ecological restoration.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Susan Davy, chief executive of the Pennon Group, which owns SWW, said that the company was “extremely passionate” about the environment.

“Any pollution incident is one too many. These seven isolated incidents that took place between 2016 and 2020 were unacceptable and it’s right that we have been held to account by the EA,” she said.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Green transition: Help retrain gas workers or risk 'cliff edge' job losses, government warned
Green transition

Green transition: Help retrain gas workers or risk 'cliff edge' job losses, government warned

How London's history-making beavers are adapting to life in the capital: 'They have a right to exist'
beavers
Environment

How London's history-making beavers are adapting to life in the capital: 'They have a right to exist'

Shell just made £6.2bn in quarterly profit. Here's how that money could be better spent
Environment

Shell just made £6.2bn in quarterly profit. Here's how that money could be better spent

Meet the chemical engineer producing carbon-free fuel to keep our world running
Renewable energy

Meet the chemical engineer producing carbon-free fuel to keep our world running

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know