11 December 2006

Scottish Water Should Pay For North-East Blunders, Says MSP - Press & Journal

by Andrew Kellock, Press & Journal

Scottish Water should pay the price for its own blunders - and not north-east businesses which have been hit by huge, backdated bills.

The call for the company to waive at least some of the charges it has levied on pubs, hotels and shops in the Peterhead area was made last night by Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson.

He has already secured an apology from Scottish Water for a series of mistakes which resulted in some local firms getting bills 10 times their normal quarterly average.

He will hold talks with company chiefs in Edinburgh later this month.

Scottish Water has admitted its meter reading system was "compromised" for more than a year.

It is believed the actions of a single employee - who either made mistakes or did not read meters at all - resulted in about 30 businesses being asked to "catch up" with their payments.

Raymond Matthew, owner of Bailie's lounge bar in Broad Street, Peterhead, received a quarterly demand for nearly £1,400, more than four times his usual bill.

Kenneth Watt, proprietor of the Palace Hotel in Prince Street, was left stunned when he was asked to stump up £35,000 - 10 times what he normally pays for a three-month period.

SNP MSP Mr Stevenson said: "Commercial companies which undercharge customers have to live with the consequences of that.

"It is a discipline for them and a safeguard for their customers, who have to be able to plan for their businesses.

"Many companies in Peterhead have had their financial planning thrown totally out of kilter and Scottish Water should be paying for its own incompetence and waiving at least part of these bills.

"I will be meeting officials from the company later this month and I will be telling them that in no uncertain terms.

"Businesses in my constituency should not have to suffer through no fault of their own."

Scottish Water chief executive Jon Hargreaves said the company had learned from mistakes. He said a "comprehensive review" of its meter reading programme had been carried out.

The company insists none of the businesses caught up in the bills bungle has been overcharged.

It says that after correct meter readings were taken they resulted in higher figures and that bills were "falling back into their normal pattern".

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