A Lib Dem parliamentary candidate has stated water companies have been given a "get of jail free card" after a vote was passed calling for regulators to take into account economic growth during company regulation.

The Growth Duty states that regulators such as Ofwat and Ofgem should "have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth", with campaigners arguing this undermines regulators' positions with the potential for water companies to use the duty to "push back against financial sanctions".

The Liberal Democrats forced a vote on the duty last Wednesday (April 24), losing 50 to 395 with both Conservative and Labour MPs voting in favour of the proposal. 

Julia Aglionby, Liberal Democrat candidate for Penrith & Solway said: “It is breathtaking that within one month of the release of the horrific 2023 sewage dumping statistics, both the Tory and Labour parties have voted to oblige Ofwat to factor in economic growth when they regulate the water companies. 

"United Utilities’ job should be to provide us with clean water and to properly treat sewage not drive economic growth. 

"This new growth duty on Ofwat hands United Utilities a ‘get out of jail free card’ to challenge fines and regulation on the pretext it will harm their economic growth, aka their shareholders’ profits," she said. 


The data released earlier this year from the Environment Agency highlighted that the number of hours of sewage spills from United Utilities had risen to 656,014 hours in 2023, a significant increase from the 2022 figure of 425,491 hours. 

United Utilities (UU), the primary water company in charge of north-west sewage assets, attributes the sharp increase in sewage spills to England's sixth-wettest year on record in 2023.

"Environment Agency data for Penrith and Solway in 2023 shows over 72,000 hours of raw sewage was dumped making it one of the most polluted constituencies in England," Ms Aglionby said. 

"The Liberal Democrats have called for all water companies to be reformed into Public Benefit Corporations.

"Our economy, our health and our communities will not thrive on the back of destroying our environment."