Yorkshire Water's 'ridiculous' advert criticised by campaigner Feargal Sharkey

Environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey claimed Yorkshire Water has shown a “casual indifference” to its customers by running a “ridiculous” advert.
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He spoke out on BBC Breakfast after the Bradford-based company was criticised for running an advert that featured stock footage of the Malvern Hills in Herefordshire, a man driving a car in Ukraine and a bar in Russia.

It was part of the word of mouth campaign, which encourages people in Yorkshire to share tips about saving water.

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The company said the “teaser video” on social media which featured stock footage has been taken down and it will be replaced by one which features residents and a small business in Harrogate.

Environmental campaigner Feargal SharkeyEnvironmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey
Environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey

Mr Sharkey said the advert shows the company is prepared to treat the “staunchly proud” people of Yorkshire with “casual indifference”.

The former rock star has heavily criticised Yorkshire Water and other utility firms in recent years for polluting the country’s waterways by discharging sewage.

He said: “I personally think it was a ridiculous thing to do and it calls into question, in my mind, who within the company actually approved it?

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“Who thought the people of Yorkshire – that this ad was supposed to be reaching out to, to build that bridge of trust and begin re-engaging with customers again – should feature places like bars in Russia and national landmarks in Herefordshire?”

He added: “Perhaps this laissez faire approach to customers tells a much deeper concerning story about how the company itself functions.”

Mr Sharkey highlighted Environment Agency figures which show there were more than 160,000 spills in the region's waters between 2016 and 2021, with sewage pumped into the water for more than a million hours.

Earlier this week, Chief Executive Nicola Shaw said the company is investing £500m in infrastructure to reduce sewage discharges, improve drinking water quality and maintain reservoirs

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The company recorded a statutory profit of £544m in 2022/23, after a loss of £368.6m in the previous year.

Its annual report said £62.3m in dividends were paid to other companies in the Kelda Group, to help cover interest payments on loans taken out on behalf of Yorkshire Water, and no money went to external shareholders.

Yorkshire Water is part of Kelda Group, which is run by Kelda Holdings Limited. Shareholders in the Jersey-based parent company include Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and Australia’s SAS Trustee Corporation.

Earlier this month, the finances of England’s debt-laden water companies were put under the spotlight when concerns were raised about the future of Thames Water, as it has been struggling to service a £14bn debt pile.

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There are fears the companies, which collectively hold £60bn of debt, are not generating enough profit to pay off their loans and prioritising dividends over infrastructure investment.

Yorkshire Water has claimed it is shoring up its finances, after raising more than £500m from shareholders and a further £700m by issuing bonds.

The company reported a net debt of £6.1bn in 2022/23, when the amount it spent on covering interest payments on various loans rose to £427.6m (up from £281.9m).