Thames Water in urgent funding talks amid fears of collapse

  • By Michael Race
  • Business reporter, BBC News

Thames Water is in talks to safe further funding as the federal government says it is able to act in a worst case state of affairs if the corporate collapses.

The water agency, which serves 1 / 4 of the UK inhabitants, has billions in debt and is underneath strain with its boss resigning unexpectedly on Tuesday.

The authorities stated “a lot of work is going on behind the scenes” and it had a course of in place “if necessary”.

Regardless of what occurs, water provides will proceed as regular.

Even if the agency have been to collapse, it will not occur imminently, the BBC understands.

The UK’s largest water agency has been closely criticised over its efficiency following a sequence of sewage discharges and leaks. Thames Water stated it’s making an attempt to boost the money it wants to enhance.

It stated it was retaining water regulator Ofwat knowledgeable on progress, and that it nonetheless had “strong” money and borrowing reserves to attract on.

The agency leaks extra water than some other water firm in UK, dropping the equal of as much as 250 Olympic measurement swimming swimming pools day by day from its pipes.

If the agency can’t safe extra funding, it could possibly be quickly taken over by the federal government till a brand new purchaser is discovered, in a particular administration regime (SAR). This route was most lately taken with power provider Bulb after it bumped into monetary difficulties.

Asked about Thames Water in Parliament, surroundings minister Rebecca Pow stated it was not her place to touch upon the monetary place of an organization, however stated water companies have been “considered resilient”.

Earlier Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch stated she was “very concerned” by the state of affairs, including “we need to make sure Thames Water as an entity survives”.

In a notice to workers seen by the BBC, Thames Water executives Alastair Cochran and Cathryn Ross stated Ms Bentley’s departure and hypothesis concerning the agency’s future was “unfortunate and is unsettling for many of us”.

The agency has not given a cause for her departure. Earlier this yr, Ms Bentley blamed the agency’s poor file on sewage administration on failings on the firm earlier than her time.

“When we look back, we have decades of underinvestment which has led to cost-cutting and some poor decisions leaving the business in a really debilitating state,” she advised the BBC in March.

Last yr Thames Water’s house owners – a consortium of institutional buyers – pumped £500m into the enterprise and pledged an additional £1bn to assist flip issues round.

But the agency is known to be struggling to boost the remaining money which it must service its substantial debt pile, which is round £14bn. Interest funds on greater than half of its debt are linked to the speed of inflation, which has soared over the past yr.

Debt fears

Since 2016, earnings haven’t coated the associated fee of paying curiosity on its debt, funding prices, and dividend funds, in accordance with Russ Mould, funding director at AJ Bell.

Professor David Hall of University of Greenwich stated buyers are reluctant to tackle the chance of additional funding because of fears it won’t be repaid.

He stated the £500m of funding was the one time buyers had put their very own money into the corporate because it was privatised in 1989, having as an alternative raised money for funding from buyer payments.

Between 1991 to 2021 water firms have been £50.6bn in dividends.

For the final 5 years, Thames Water’s house owners have backed the choice to not pay any dividends to exterior shareholders. It has nevertheless paid dividends internally.

If the federal government is compelled to step in, Professor Hall stated shareholders reasonably than the general public have been more likely to lose cash.

Other water companies are dealing with related pressures because of larger curiosity funds on their money owed and rising prices together with larger power and chemical costs. Ofwat stated final yr that it was involved concerning the monetary resilience Yorkshire Water, SES Water and Portsmouth Water in addition to Thames Water.

Water payments have been on the rise, with the annual invoice for a mean family in England and Wales hitting £448 in April.

Bills are set to rise once more in 2025 by about £42 per family on common over a “long time frame”, former Environment Secretary George Eustice stated on Wednesday.

It got here after the Times reported payments might rise by as a lot as 40%, a determine Mr Eustice dismissed, saying it will be “far lower”.

Shadow power secretary Ed Miliband stated the state of affairs at Thames Water was “an absolute scandal”.Asked whether or not the corporate ought to be nationalised, he replied: “I don’t think the answer to the water company’s crisis is to pay out billions of pounds to shareholders, when that money could be going into sorting out what is happening in the water industry”.

Separately, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt met with regulators, together with Ofwat, early on Wednesday. He advised them that they wanted to “work at pace” to make sure companies mirrored any falling prices in the costs they charged clients.

Also on the assembly have been regulators from the power, monetary and communications sectors, to face questions on whether or not there’s a profiteering downside and what they’re doing to sort out it.

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