Offshoring the Nation's water

Allen, John and Pryke, Michael (2016). Offshoring the Nation's water. In: Raco, Mike ed. Britain For Sale? Perspectives on the Costs and Benefits of Foreign Ownership. London: The Smith Institute, pp. 34–41.



When the ten regional water authorities in England and Wales were floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1989, a shift in ownership inevitably followed from the privatization of household water. The public listing of shares in water companies initially created a wide distribution of ownership across the UK population, with preference given to those who paid the water bills. Controls were put in place to ensure that no one individual or company could monopolize the shareholdings, with the UK government retaining a ‘golden share’ precisely to avoid such an outcome. Once those shares were relinquished by the government in 1994, however, the ownership of the nation’s water started to shift abroad, with foreign investors largely attracted by the low risk, stable returns on offer. Some two decades on, with seven of the ten water authorities now in foreign ownership, the contrast from the idea of a British shareholding public that drove the early UK privatisations could not be greater.

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