Monday, January 11, 2010

Deja Vu, Veolia

MUCH to my surprise today, along with a magazine to which I subscribe, and the usual junk mail and charity missives, the postman brought a letter from Veolia headed "For the attention of the homeowner". I'm not a homeowner, but the letter appeared to be offering important advice about my water supplies, and what with the they generously enclosed a voucher promising "£15 off Home emergency products bought to you by HomeServe".

Thing is, mind, I was not aware until this letter came that I was doing any business with Veolia. I've had 'phone calls asking me whether I'd considered changing my electrity supplier, or if I would like to switch back to British Telecom , but I must have missed the call asking if I minded who took over my water supply.

Or that I wanted to. I know they seem to be expanding lately. I've seen their vans about. Their website tells me that "With a presence in this country since the mid-1960s, we are one of the only UK companies to operate across the entire range of environmental services and offer customers comprehensive and tailored solutions".

Oh no, not more solutions! Besides a company offering clean water should not be coming up with solutions. But elsewhere we find they also face problems:

Dubai: Two French transport giants Veolia and Alstom could face trial in France over their involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail project that aims to link the eastern and western parts of Occupied Jerusalem to Jewish colonies in the West Bank.

Campaigners against the two companies have won a major step in a legal battle in France that they see as necessary to curb Israel's expansion in occupied Palestine, and set a precedent for companies in Europe eyeing Israeli contracts in the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem.

And here's an item from a couple of years ago:

At the entrance of the Tovlan landfill, located beside the Jordan River in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), three flags fly proudly: those of Israel, France and the European company, Veolia. Through its Onyx subsidiary, Veolia, which is also constructing the Jerusalem light rail project on occupied Palestinian land, is managing the Tovlan landfill. In a 2004 year report on sustainable development, Veolia announced that its subsidiary Onyx brought "the new Tovlan landfill into service in Israel." Prior to that time, Tovlan was an old, unsanitary waste dump.

Veolia has a history of juggling with names. In 2005 Onyx became Veolia Environmental Services, also operating in Israel under the name TMM Onyx. Research by the Coalition of Women for Peace confirms that the Tovlan landfill is owned and operated by TMM, a company that is 100 percent owned by Veolia Environmental Services Israel.

The companies involved in controversial work in the West Bank may not be interested in political and moral arguments, but they do have to take notice when investors pull out or if they are threatened with losing contracts in other countries.

With all that worry, on top of not knowing if it is a French or UK company, or if Veolia is Onyx, it is impressive to think they have time to concern themselves with my problems. But as their letter says, worryingly,

"Your underground water supply pipe brings fresh water into your home.

If you are a homeowner you are generally responsible for the repair and maintenance of this pipe.

A 5 metre segment of pipe can cost £620 to replace."

Looking out at the snow-covered ground outside that is worrying. Or would be if I was the homeowner.

But it is all a bit familiar.

Because, as those of you who read my blog back in 2005 may remember, I went on about similar communications received back then, by me and my neighbours, telling us that homeowners were responsible for water supply pipes, our supplies might be cut off, and how expensive it would be to pay for special digging equipment, and offering us insurance cover.

I was worried that some of my elderly neighbours might hasten to pay unnecessarily, but they reassured me that they had binned the letter straight away. I didn't bin mine, but sent a copy to my MP. He made enquiries. It appeared that although the letter resembled a water bill, and was headed with the water company's logo, the company anxious to provide people with insurance cover was Home Service(GB) Ltd.

OFWAT, the regulatory body for the water industry, had received a number of complaints about Home Service's advertising. An OFWAT spokesperson said: "Technically the leaflets are correect in that there isn't a statutory responsibility on the water companies to repair these pipes, but the figures show that in an overwhelming number of cases last year the water company did just that.

"There were almost 53,000 repairs last year - when you think that there are more than 20m households connected to a water main, this is not a lot. More than 6,000 pipes were replaced and in half of those cases the water company picked up the bill.

"One of the things we are very concerned about is the fact that these leaflets are designed to look like water bills. We recently wrote to Home Service to demand they are all redesigned so they don't look like bills in future".

That was on 16 February, 2005. Then in June that year I received another communication, still bearing the water company's logo. It had the water company's address as well. Entitled "PLUMBING AND DRAINS; ADVICE ABOUT YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES". the leaflet warned "PLUMBERS MAY GO AWAY IN SUMMER -PLUMBING EMERGENCIES DON'T". It was signed by someone called Lisa Bridge, Customer Relations Manager for Homeserve. Judging from code numbers this was the same company as Home Service.

Then in November I heard from Ms.Bridge again.

This much has changed. The latest letter is signed by one Richard Brimble, as "Customer Relations Director, Veolia Water Three Valleys".

A PS explains "Three Valleys Water is now known as Veolia Water Three Valleys".

Well, so long as we know.

All I can say for now is "Plus ca change, et plus, c'est la meme chose! Pardon my French.

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