State must own up to real cost of water
POLITICIANS like to set up expert groups to examine controversial issues. The reports and conclusions of such groups allow leaders to inject great distances between themselves and bitter political pills. If the pills prove poisonous, the group's recommendations can always be ignored – or at least put away on a shelf somewhere and allowed to gather dust.
It is hard not to adopt this view when considering the revelations today on water charges and the 'Report of the Inter-departmental Working Group on Affordability Measures', seen by the Irish Independent.
The group has found that the real cost of running water services will be close to €500 per home – double the bill paid by the average family. It also found tens of thousands will simply not be able to afford water charges – and unpaid bills will ultimately result in higher bills for those who can pay.
The Economic and Social Research Institute examined this issue of water poverty and said it was questionable to give everyone a free allowance.
The Government has ignored that question and pressed ahead with free allowances. What is intriguing, however, is the timeline of what lies ahead.
The structure of water charges will last for two years – at which point the Commission for Energy Regulation will draw up a new way the tariff to work. When will that be? In 2016 – the longest the current Government can last in office. And what can we expect then? The regulator will point out what we already know – that we cannot afford free allowances to be set at the level they are. Water bills will then move close to €500 per family. But the politicians will hope the sting of far higher water charges will have been delayed long enough to avoid another political landmine.
And it doesn't take an expert group to work that out.