Scots councils spend £1 million per year on bottled water


By Alexander Lawrie

SCOTLAND’S local authorities are pouring £1 million a year down the drain buying in bottled water rather than using supplies from taps.

Council chiefs have splashed out at least that amount refreshing staff and guests with bought in water rather than using regular supplies.

And it’s part of a near £3 MILLION soft drinks bill for all their premises including water coolers, bottle water and diluting juice across their premises.

A Freedom of Information request to all of the country’s 32 council’s shows at least £2, 835,600 was spent on council buildings and official council functions for water coolers, bottled water and diluting juices over the last three years.

Schools were also included, but the figure could be even higher after 12 of the councils asked actually failed to supply of financial breakdown for buying in supplies.

Worst offenders

Six councils failed to reply in time with the FOI request.

Another six councils including Glasgow – the country’s largest council – simply refused claiming it would cost TOO MUCH to research.

Some of the worst offenders included Highland Council who has spent £310,277 on water over the last three financial years, and North Lanarkshire Council who has spent £592,179.

Angus Council has seen fit to splash out £129,458 in total over the past three years.

Fife Council also shelled out £124,095 over the same period.

The councils’ policy for supplying bottled water is also out of step with other agencies including the Scottish Government which admits it is already phasing out bottled water and water coolers in parliament buildings.

Sales of bottled water have exploded over the past five years with Scottish firms such as Highland Spring and Strathmore being at the forefront of the boom.

Council spending defended

But Scotland’s water quality has been consistently high and recently released figures from the Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland shows over 99 per cent of water samples tested passed their stringent tests.

However a spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) defended the councils’ spending on bottled water and water coolers for their employees claiming the figures could be misleading.

He said: “This figure could be misleading in that this could be water for schools etc – however the bottom line is that individual councils will rightly have their own policy around this issue.

“At the end of the day it is an operational matter for individual councils.”

But, Nanette Milne, the Conservative Party’s Environment minister, said the supply of free water to schools and council employees is an “obvious area to cut back on”.

She said: “Especially in these tight financial times, each council needs to justify how it spends taxpayers’ money.

“This is an obvious area to cut back on – by either using large water coolers, or tap water which is free.”

Scottish Water already provides 2.3 billion litres of water every day to its five million customers, but nearly one billion litres of waste water is taken away and treated before being returned to the rivers and seas.

And it refused to get pulled into the row.

Helen Lennox, Head of Corporate Affairs for Scottish Water, said: “Scottish Water believes it is a matter of choice for organisations and individuals whether they drink tap water or bottled water.

“It is the role of Scottish Water to ensure that when organisations or individuals do turn on their tap they enjoy clear, fresh drinking water at the highest quality it’s ever been.

“Scottish Water is investing to ensure that drinking water continues to comply with the guidelines set out by the Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR).

“Tap water in Scotland is a sustainable, high quality product.

“In 2008, Scottish Water conducted more than 340,000 laboratory tests on samples taken at customer taps, service reservoirs and water treatment facilities.

“Of these 99.81 per cent were compliant with stringent microbiological and chemical regulatory standards. This continues the improving trend that has seen drinking water quality rise for more than a decade.”

Scottish Government to phase out bottled water

A spokesman for the consumer watchdog, Consumer Focus Scotland, pointed to the importance of access to drinking water at work.

He said: “This is an investment in the welfare and health of staff. We would encourage every workplace to make sure that staff can get access to drinking water at all times, be it through providing water dispensers or just ensuring they have mains-fed taps in their kitchen areas.

“The expectation that people will have access to drinking water is a welcome workplace revolution. We believe that having properly maintained and cleaned water dispensers in offices is a good thing for everyone working there.”

The Scottish Government is leading the way in cutting water expenditure by replacing bottled water with filtered tap water during hospitality functions and the removal of water coolers by expanding their chilled drinking water facilities in government buildings.

A spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to continuously reducing its environmental impact and to delivering value for money for taxpayers.

“As part of this drive, we have replaced bottled still water with filtered water for our hospitality service. We are also phasing out water coolers and expanding the chilled drinking water facilities in our buildings.”

Various cost-cutting and environmentally-friendly measures have recently been recommended to the public to help conserve the nation’s water supply including introducing dual flush lavatories, fixing leaking taps and not running the tap while brushing teeth or washing dishes.