Liz Truss has been accused of presiding over budget cuts to the Environment Agency that have resulted in “doubled sewage discharge”.
Labour Party analysis of official figures shows that since 2016, when the Tory leadership hopeful was in charge of Defra – raw sewage discharge more than doubled from 14.7 per overflow in 2016 to 29.3 in 2021.
This coincided with her cutting £80m of sewage monitors as part of a £235m Tory axe to the Environment Agency’s (EA) budget, which she branded “efficiency savings”.
A spokesperson for Liz Truss today said the cuts were part of a “wider drive from central government” to make savings across department and agency budgets.
If elected prime minister, the South West Norfolk MP would ensure we “get a grip” on water pollution, her team member added, though they did not provide further detail.
However, shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said: “Under the Tories, the country is facing a crisis in our water supply. Our water infrastructure is at bursting point, with billions of litres of water being wasted every day and raw sewage being dumped into our waters.
“The fact that Liz Truss was the one to cut the EA so severely, not only demonstrates her lack of foresight but also her lack of care for the detail, in recognising the need to adapt to the serious flooding that had just happened on her watch.
Labour would tackle the water problems by strengthening regulation and holding water company bosses to account, legally and financially, for any “negligence”, Mr McMahon pledged.
As environment secretary in 2014 Ms Truss greenlit the Thames Tideway tunnel to alleviate problems with London’s sewage system.
A senior consultant for the Environment Agency told the Guardian about the cuts: “They plummeted to the point it was impossible for the Environment Agency to know what’s going on.
“They had no control or monitoring capability that was meaningful.
“They ceded the control of monitoring to water companies, which ended up being able to mark their own homework. They take their own samples and assess whether they are being compliant.”
The Labour analysis comes as dozens of pollution warnings were issued for beaches and swimming spots in England and Wales following heavy rain that overwhelmed the sewage system.
On Monday, Number 10 said it was the duty of firms to put customers before shareholders, with a spokeswoman saying: “We have been clear that the failure of water companies to adequately reduce sewage discharges is completely unacceptable.
“They have a duty to put their customers before shareholders and we would expect them to take urgent action on this issue or face fines.”