As your MP, I want South West Water to clean up their act – and I’m holding them to account, using legislation brought in by a Conservative government.

The government brought in the toughest ever crack down on sewage spills. That’s set out in law through the Environment Act, which I voted for.

The Environment Act and Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan ensures water companies will face strict limits on when they can use storm overflows. These should be genuinely exceptional circumstances to avoid sewage backing up into homes.

That’s what I voted for. A proper plan to crack down on an issue that has been around for decades under all previous governments. Under the Conservatives, we’re tackling the problem and taking on water companies who fail to act.

I would never vote to pollute our water – despite some claims suggesting otherwise. I’m from Devon, I live near the sea in Sidmouth, and I love where we live.

The government's crackdown has forced water companies to embark on a £56 billion programme of investment.

Working cross-party with East Devon parish, town, district and county councillors, and environmental groups, I’m continuing to hold South West Water to account about their plans to invest in East Devon.

Last month, I chaired a meeting of the region’s MPs with South West Water’s Chief Executive. We were updated on what the company is doing to get a grip on sewage spills. Things are moving in the right direction, and not before time. South West Water’s storm overflow use halved from 2021 to 2022 across the bathing season and pollutions are at their lowest level in 10 years.

I’m continuing to press South West Water to urgently fix specific local problems as and when they do crop up, too. I’ve previously secured compensation for Clyst St Mary residents after foul flooding in the village.

At the moment, I’m working with Sidmouth Town Council and will be meeting with Escape Exmouth so we can work together to scrutinise South West Water on your behalf.

In all of this, the key thing is having the right data. Ministers have increased the number of storm overflows monitored across the network from 5% in 2016 to almost 90% now. That figure will reach 100% cover by end of this year. Following new data coming to light as a result of increased monitoring, the regulators – the Environment Agency and Ofwat – have launched the largest criminal and civil investigations into water company sewage discharges ever, at over 2,200 treatment works.

The public needs the right data, too. South West Water told me that they are launching an updated website with better and more timely information. It’s a step in the right direction, but more investment to improve the situation is what’s actually needed to provide peace of mind.

Not everyone is aware of this but the government subsidises water bills in our region by £50 per household every year. Despite pressures on public finances, that support will be continuing in 2023/24 thanks to lobbying by MPs.

The public expect water companies to keep their bills as low as possible to ease the cost of living. This is not the time to reward failure. Water company bosses have to demonstrate a link between their performance and their generous bonuses, through Ofwat’s licencing conditions.

South West Water was fined £13 million last year alone because of missed targets and will have to reduce customer bills accordingly. I’m awaiting the outcome of Ofwat’s ongoing investigation into water company sewage treatment works and Ofwat’s separate enforcement case against South West Water.

Future fines handed out to water companies will be channelled directly into work to improve water quality, which is another major step forward by the government.

I voted for a crackdown on sewage spills. We can now hold failing water companies to account – including the one-star rated South West Water.