Dismay at water charges

Preston Town Hall
Preston Town Hall
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Water charges for schools across Preston could be putting city children at a disadvantage, according to council bosses.

Research has found that schools in Lancashire pay £8,600 on average in surface water and highways drainage charges, compared with similar-sized education authorities, where they pay less than £5,000.

In Preston, leaders say schools pay more than £10,000 and it could be “damaging” to the future of young people.

Speaking at the latest full council meeting, Coun Brian Rollo said: “Kent is the local education authority most similar to Lancashire in terms of schools. They pay on average £5,000 per school, in Preston it’s £10,000 per school.”

He said other schools in the city were also paying much higher than the average, adding: “The concern is education is funded on a per-child basis.

“Lancashire is pretty close to average in the money we get per pupil, but more of our money is going on water rates.

“It puts our children at a disadvantage.

“What we want to happen is for United Utilities to exempt schools from surface water charges, or increase the central grant from government, so Preston children can compete equally with children from other areas.”

A notice of motion was discussed at full council. The document said the North West was one of 10 regions in England, but paid more than 29 per cent of schools water and sewage charges.

It was decided that the council’s chief executive would write to the chairman of United Utilities, the water regulator (OFWAT), the secretary of state for education, and three local MPs, to express the council’s “complete dismay at the disadvantages being placed on the children in Preston”.

A spokesman for United Utilities said: “The North West’s higher population, higher rainfall and industrial legacy means wastewater services are more expensive here than in the south east.

“In 2010, when we began charging schools and other premises on the basis of the size of their drainage requirements, it meant bills for other customers like householders and small high street shops and offices went down.

“Previously, they had been subsidising lower bills for schools as the cost had been spread across all customers.

“This is why this way of charging is recognised by consumer groups, regulators and the Government as the fairest charging method because it reflects the actual cost of the service.”

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“If now, five years later, we were to remove schools from charging on the size of their drainage requirements, it would mean householders and other customers having to pay more again so that schools can pay less”.