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Three UK water bosses give up bonuses after anger over sewage

Three water company bosses have given up their bonuses in an acknowledgment of the public anger over companies’ dumping of sewage in Britain’s rivers.

The chief executives of Yorkshire Water and Thames Water as well as the owner of South West Water have declined to accept bonuses this year.

Water companies have been criticised for raking in profits and their executives receiving large pay packets while sewage has regularly been released into Britain’s rivers and seas in large quantities.

Related: Banking firm that owns Southern Water posts record profits

Nicola Shaw, of Yorkshire Water, said she understood the “strength of feeling” on river pollution and had decided to refuse what would have been her first bonus since joining the company in May 2022.

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Annual reports show she could have received between £600,000 and £800,000 if the company met its performance targets. Last year, the company paid out £878,000 in bonuses to directors.

She said: “I understand the strength of feeling about the issues linked to river health which is why I’ve decided that this year I won’t be accepting a bonus.

“This is the right thing to do and I’m committed to improving Yorkshire Water’s performance.”

Sarah Bentley, who runs Thames Water and last year received a £496,000 payout, forwent her payout alongside the company’s chief financial officer, Alastair Cochran, who will also skip his bonus for 2022-23. He received £298,000 last year.

Bentley said it “just did not feel like the right thing to take performance-related pay this year”.

South West Water’s Susan Davy, who received £522,000 last year, will also not receive a bonus. “This is the right thing to do. We’re listening to our customers, we get it,” said Davy, whose company spilled untreated sewage 37,649 times last year. She runs Pennon Group, the listed owner of South West Water, and has turned down a pay rise for the past two years.

The exact size of the bonuses that would have been due to the three executives has not been disclosed.

An analysis of water companies’ annual reports released last month found the bonus pool for executives stood at an average of more than £600,000 at each company. In total, the 22 water bosses paid themselves £24.8m, including £14.7m in bonuses, benefits and incentives, in 2021-22.

Emma Clancy, the chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, welcomed the decisions. She said: “Our recent research, Bridging the Gap, shows that bonuses add to people’s current frustration with the water industry and they would like much more openness and transparency on this issue. This announcement shows that people’s concerns are being listened to.”

Gary Carter, a national officer at the GMB union, said it was “grotesque for water companies to post such mammoth profits while so many are repeatedly caught dumping sewage in our nation’s glorious seas and waterways”.

He added: “GMB calls on all water bosses to waive their annual bonuses until Ofwat can confidently say the scourge of sewage dumping is under control.”

The Financial Times reported on Monday that Britain’s privatised water and sewage companies paid £1.4bn in dividends in 2022, an increase from £540m the previous year.

Last week, Macquarie, the Australian owner of Southern Water, the utility company criticised for discharging sewage into the sea, posted record profits after a boom in its commodities trading division.