Naomi Long: Water charging will actually save people money in the long run

Naomi Long, centre, with 'Alliance Party leader David Ford, left, and Stephen Farry at the launch this month for the party's candidates in the Assembly elections. 'Pic Pacemaker
Naomi Long, centre, with 'Alliance Party leader David Ford, left, and Stephen Farry at the launch this month for the party's candidates in the Assembly elections. 'Pic Pacemaker

There has been plenty claimed lately about the potential introduction of water charges.

At a time when political parties are asking for your vote to give them a mandate for the next five years, it is crucial to cut through the scaremongering.

For Alliance, it is simple –water charging is not revenue-raising. Instead, it will actually save people money in the long run. You will receive more for your pound under Alliance’s proposals than under the current set-up.

We are honest that there will be major financial pressures in Northern Ireland over the next few years – our block grant won’t rise in line with inflation, so there will be less money available to the Executive.

We are not seeking to take more money out of the public’s pockets to fund water and sewerage infrastructure. We don’t want to change what households pay for water but how they do.

Crucially, the proposal appears in our manifesto in the infrastructure section, not under revenue-raising. Any money raised would be off-set by a corresponding reduction in the regional rate. This means households would not see any change in the amount of money they pay.

Water charges remove the risk of potentially being fined by the EU over breaching water directives, as well as possible future VAT charges for the Executive.

What it would also achieve is giving Northern Ireland Water (NIW) the freedom to deal with flooding issues. Clearly, this investment is needed – our sewerage infrastructure has been graded among the worst performing in the UK in a recent assessment by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Currently, as NIW is directly funded by the Executive, it is unable to borrow more money to do just that. But if the organisation was instead funded through household charging, as Alliance is proposing, it could access borrowing for capital investment.

But what we don’t need is a privatisation of the water service here. Instead, a mutualisation model would give NIW a long-term funding stream, separate from the block grant and insulated from short-term political decisions, while giving quality service, more so than under the current set-up.

Alliance is being honest about what is required to fix our failing infrastructure.

We believe it is the only way to show respect to voters.