Ingham’s Eye View: Neither private nor public has proved to be perfect solution

On April 18 Julie McClelland, of Luddenden Foot, informed The Guardian’s readers that she had heard the cuckoo at Wainstalls three days earlier. The poor beggar clearly mistimed its return to our temperate climate and has been wet through ever since.

No doubt its plight will be put down to global warming.

The bird’s dampness curiously brings me to something that does not happen often: I agree with Barbara Green, of Heptonstall. Back in March she complained about her water bill rising annually and now nearing £300. I share her pain.

My water bill in East Surrey comes to £529.50 - £176.80 for water supply; £237.70 for what is described as waste water services; and £115.00, which I take to be insurance.

Mrs Green went on, as she would, to attack water privatisation in particular and privatisation generally. Again, I distinctly recall being invited to a newly privatised water industry lunch in the early 1990s and feeling obliged to puncture the watermen’s complacency. My annual water rate of £6, I said through clenched teeth, had soared without, so far as I could detect, the slightest improvement in service.

The theory behind privatisation was to get industry out of the dead hands of the Treasury which, as the Government instrument (until Gordon Brown came along) for preventing spending, was not in the business of risk taking. We do not know what the current water and sewerage industry would look like had it remained in public ownership or whether the much-vaunted improvements in water and beach quality would have occurred.

But that does not mean that privatisation has been an unqualified success any more than nationalisation was before it. One of the obvious defects of nationalisation was the monopoly it not merely conveyed upon the provider but also on the union barons treating the public like pawns in a power game.

I doubt whether the average person could care less who provides essential services – or how – so long as they are efficiently available when needed. But they are also entitled to expect that they are provided economically and that if, as in water, monopolies remain, they are firmly regulated.

I hope Mrs Green will agree with me that regulation of privatised industries has not been all it might have been. Which brings me to Mick Piggott and Jean Williams, of Mytholmroyd, who only got a leak in their garden repaired – this once and no more – after an argy bargy with Yorkshire Water and Pennine Housing.

I think this is as monstrous as my water rates. So far as I am concerned, Yorkshire Water, like the other water companies, is in the business of water supply. That supply comes through pipes. Without those pipes they would not be able to present their exorbitant bills. In which case, they can jolly keep those pipes in a good state of repair and stop leaks.

Instead, they din me for £115 a year for insurance against this, that and the other risks – all carefully segmented to maximise the premium take. Why, we are told some of them flog insurance for services they already provide free.

It is not clear to me how much privatisation has contributed to the executive pay boom. But this boom is widely felt to be out of control from Barclays Bank (where its CEO is down to get £17.7m a year) to Calderdale Council.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has just produced its local authority Town Hall Rich List, which is available on the internet. Calderdale does not appear to be in any way outrageous in the rewards it offers its top staff but even this small authority contributes 17 to the total of 3,097 across the nation earning more than £100,000.

In other words it is paying out £1.7m to its top official brass on top of the £750,000 or so its councillors cost you in “allowances”. Six are identified; Chief executive £170,000 (including £22,000 to pension); Head of Finance £106,000 (£14,000); Director of Children £141,000 (£18,000); Director of Economy and Environment £140,000 (£18,000); Director of Safer and Stronger £130,000 (£17,000); and Director of Health and Social Care £135,000 (£17,000).

The other unidentified 11 earn anything from £102,500 to £212,500. This means that Calderdale – i.e. you as a council taxpayer – pay three officials in Halifax Town Hall more than the Prime Minister (£142,000). I thought you would like to know this as well as about the first (wet) cuckoo of Spring.

I also trust Mrs Green is as happy as I am to discover we share at least some concerns about costs in this exploited nation.