As well as being easy on the eye, the women from Smack the Pony were a bunch of gifted comdians – and dozens of their sketches now appear on the web, including this bit of fun.
It made me laugh, because I’m a lifelong fan of tap water and have resolutely – and rather unfashionably – refused to buy into the culture of bottled water.
To me, it verges on moronic that anyone will spend their hard earned cash for something that each of us already pay for to come out of our taps. Esepecially since there isn’t a money-spinning bottled water business out there that will produce anything as pure or fresh as what we take for granted in Scotland.
Off and on over the past five years, I’ve spent time helping out at the Scottish Water press office. Oh aye, I’ve heard all the arguments. Bottled water just tastes better. Tap water is full of unpleasant additives, whereas the expensive paid for stuff is actually good for you. Whatever. There’s no point arguing with some people.
I remain baffled why so many seem utterly determined to run down Scotland’s publicly owned water service; to denigrate the high quality product that comes out of their taps for a laughably tiny cash outlay; yet think nothing of paying an obscenely inflated amounts for what is effectively a marketing con.
So I found it even more refreshing than a tall glass of iced water when the revered and respected old lady of BBC documentary making – Panorama – redressed the balance somewhat on Monday night. And I hope the bottled water brigade were choking on their overpriced tipples at the revelations.
Firstly, a series of blind tests had bottled water drinkers oozing confidence that they’d be able to pick out smelly old Thames Water (after all, each drop has passed through seven other people before it reaches the tap!) from a series of refined bottled offerings. Nope. Thames Water was rated consistently high and not a soul managed to correctly pick out cheap and cheerful tap water from the pricey alternatives. Bear in mind Thames Water is nowhere near as tasty as Scotland’s water. All of which sort of explodes the myth (trotted out repeatedly) that tap water “tastes funny”. What’s really “funny” is the number of people who bypass their tongue and actually taste with part of their brain that can only be described as the fad cortex.
If you bottled up street puddles, passed it through a basic filter to clear out the visible lumps and labelled it as pure,mountain spring source, some people would swear it was the very nectar of the Gods. Let’s face, it around 80% of what we “taste” is related to smell and pure water has neither taste nor odour. Dogs are animals with a sense of smell up to 100 times more powerful than ours. Yet Fido still likes nothing better than drinking pure, clean Scottish Water. From the toilet bowl.
No you can’t tell the difference between bottled water and the tap variety. Just deal with it.
Then Panorama trotted out the science: Just how many eminent chemists does it take to tell the average Joe that tap water is perfectly clean, fresh and pure before they stop shelling out for the overpriced bottled variety, in the mistaken belief it’s better for them? In Scotland the only sector I can think of that is more heavily regulated than the water industry is nuclear power. The battery of tests – for purity, clarity and value for money simply would and could not be replicated by bottled water producers.
Next up were the marketing gurus. The people behind the eau seau clever Perrier adverts of the 1980s, which turned bottled water from a minor business backwater, into a thriving £10 billion a year industry. The ad man in question still seemed charmingly baffled as to quite how they’d pulled off the unthinkable – by actually persuading people to pay for something they could already get from their taps.
But the final indignity for the bottled water lovers had to be the Environmental damage wrought by the money spinning aqua industry. Bottled water has a massive carbon footprint compared with the green credentials of tap water. And did I mention the damage plastic bottles (not to mention the pellets used in raw plastic production) are wreaking on our coastlines and aquatic life? Worse, though, is the exploitation of communities (like those in Fiji) suffering from the disease, hardship and indignity of life without clean water. While just a few miles down the road big commerical industries plunder the pure water sources to sell to rich Europeans and Americans (who, ironically, already have the world’s purest water quite literally on tap).
But despite all the debunking of myths by Panorma, I’m sure the broadcast will have made virtually no difference. Quite simply for politicians and the media it’s just too convenient to stick the boot into the water business . Indeed, a the weekend Scotland on Sunday let rip with an unbalanced and inaccurate tirade against business water charges in Scotland. A week or two before the same paper was putting the boot in over leakage figures – again without giving both sides of the argument.
Then there’s always some politician trying to build support or credibility by calling for Scottish Water to be privatised. Oh aye. Magic idea. Take our biggest national resource out of public hands and give it to a profit driven company to run – as a monopoly – and see how quickly that drives up standards. How is it everybody understands that competition is the only persuasive driver for businesses to give customers value for money, yet everyone seems to forget that when talking about putting Scotland’s water sector into private hands – with no alternative supplier of tap water?
None of these commentators ever seem to mention that there isn’t a successful business that would actually buy and operate Scotland’s water infrastructure at the moment. It’s all to easy to forget that Scottish Water also deals with all our sewage and has to maintain bathing water standards round a vast coastline, but it has to deliver highest quality drinking water to remote Highland and Island communities. Neither of these are problems encountered by any of the privatised English water companies.
Another convenienty forgotten fact is that until Scotland has been saddled with water infrastructure that was ancient and neglected. Since 2002 Scottish Water has been replacing it – and while the billions involved sound like a lot of money the amounts are modes compared to those spent south of the border. What’s more, those English companies also had a 15 year head start.
Yet in little over five years Scottish Water has been transformed from disant also ran into a water business which performs as well (if not better) than many of those privatised English firms. What’s more it has all been achieved while merging three separate water authorities in the east, west and north of Scotland, meeting ever tougher EU standards, achieve huge operational efficiencies by dramatically reducing staff numbers AND delivering the biggest ever programme of civil engineering works seen in Scotland.
All that and the quality of drinking water has STILL improved every year and independent experts appointed to monitor it the most exacting European standard say 99.7 per cent of the thousands of random samples taken all across Scotland pass the test. And did I mention that the cost of providing that water and removing and treating all waste so that it has no negative impact on the environment costs each about £1 a day?
Phew. With all that going on, surely Scottish Water gets the media or public recognition it deserves. Bloody hell! It’s a model of public sector efficiency that would put many a ruthlessly run private enterprise to shame. But naw, rather than celebrate a Scottish success story it’s to easy for papers like Scotland on Sunday to take a pop. It was ever thus for public bodies – and I’d be a liar if I tried to say that I didn’t have a go at a few during my own time as a journalist.
But now that I’m on the other side … well, it’s enought to drive you to drink. So come on in – the water’s lovely.