Water shortages in London’s East End and the case for public ownership

Hmm, sounds familiar

No minister can afford to make light of the important deputation on the subject of the east London water supply, which waited on the president of the local government board at the end of last week.

The deputation asked that the board should institute an official inquiry into the cause of the water famine, and Mr Chaplin promised to give the matter a careful and candid consideration.

It appears that the water company base their defence for the short supply, in the first place, on the drought. But, after all, this summer cannot be regarded as anything of so extraordinary a nature as to make this defence a sound one, for a water company should take dry summers into consideration, and be prepared to cope with difficulties.

The second and third defences are insufficient storage, said to be caused, as regards the first, by parliament in 1893, and breakage of consumers’ pipes.

We can scarcely think the water company can substantiate this defence. But inquiry or no inquiry, this recent deficiency of the supply of water to the East End is a strong argument in favour of one central public authority whose primary object shall be to supply the public as efficiently as possible, and not to take care of the shareholders’ pockets.

Probably the real secret of the recent breakdown is the conflict between the interests of a body of private shareholders and those of the public. The continuance of the supply of water to London through the agency of limited companies, whose first object is the giving of dividends to shareholders rather than of pure and abundant water to householders, is an anomaly that must be ended.