Money down the drain?

As the credit crunch bites and pressure on taxpayers mounts it has emerged Norfolk's councils are pouring away thousands of pounds on bottled water - but they today pledged to slash the spending.

Kim Briscoe

As the credit crunch bites and pressure on taxpayers mounts it has emerged Norfolk's councils are pouring away thousands of pounds on bottled water - but they today pledged to slash the spending.

Figures released to the Evening News show that local authorities in the county are spending thousands of pounds a year on bottled water for councillors and staff.

The practice was today condemned as unsustainable by environment campaigners, who say it is wrong to waste public money when tap water is available.

Elsewhere in the country, councils such as Westminster and Liverpool have banned bottled water and asked their staff to drink tap water instead.

Adrian Ramsay, leader of the Green Party, said: “I don't think the council should be spending any money on bottled water and we and have urged for tap water to be served in jugs and glasses at council meetings.

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“All of the bottled water councils are using is not only a massive waste of money but it's also bad for the environment as it involves a lot of plastic, especially of the bottles are small. Most people also drink out of plastic cups when using water coolers.”

Some of the councils quizzed are paying thousands bringing in large water coolers from specialist suppliers.

However, they were urged today to use mains-fed coolers which run off the main electricity supply but use normal tap water. They are cheaper and can have purifying systems fitted to them.

Today all of Norfolk's council's quizzed on their spending on bottled water said they were either already cutting down the cost or had plans to do so.

The Evening News asked each council for details on how much it spends in year on bottled water, which includes water coolers.

By far the biggest spender was Norfolk County Council, which paid £25,000 between January and October 2007 on water coolers for its 10,000 staff. It said that details of pre-bottled water costs were not available.

It stressed that some of this expenditure includes monthly hygiene, cleaning and rental costs and that it has recently installed more mains-fed systems.

Steven Reilly, council spokesman, said: “Our usage of bottled water is limited by us having converted our main committee rooms and staff kitchens to provide cooled water direct from the mains some time ago.”

During the 2006/07 year Norwich City Council spent £6,400 providing bottled water, but this fell to £3,700 a year later.

A City Hall spokesperson said: “The council is reducing the amount of bottled water we consume. We recognise that bottled water is a waste of resources economically and environmentally.

“Staff are encouraged to use the on demand alternatives connected to drinking water pipes that have been installed in the kitchen areas.”

Alan Waters, the council's executive member for corporate resources and procurement, added: “Our target is to take the use of bottled water from dispensers to zero. With each dispenser being replaced in the near future either by mains-fed units, or by jugs of tap water being made available.”

Yarmouth's council has cut its costs from £5,700 on bottled water in 2006/07 to £3,200 in 2007/08 by signing up to a more cost-effective supplier.

It also said the supplier, Aquaid UK, donates 35p from every 12 or 19-litre bottle the council buys to go to children in Malawi.

South Norfolk Council, which paid out just £512 in a year on bottled water for the water coolers within its main offices, also uses a supplier which contributes 35p to the Lifeline Fund, which brings relief to abandoned and orphaned children in Africa, for every bottle the council purchases.

Broadland District Council said it makes very little use of bottled water, spending about £520 a year.

North Norfolk Council, which saw its bottled water expenditure rise from £689 in 2006/07 to £1,127 a year later, said the only water bottles it buys are for its water coolers in public areas.

Despite efforts from the councils to spend less on water, critics have called for even more action.

According to figures, the oil used to produce plastic water bottles in the UK would be enough to run 17,000 cars. Glass water bottles are even worse than plastic because they are heavier and so even more fuel is used to transport them.

Collette Nicholls, of Anglian Water, which was yesterday named as Britain's second best tap water provider, said there were no health advantages in opting for bottled water over tap water and those who enjoy their water cool can use mains-fed water coolers.

She added: “Bottled water is not a sustainable use of natural resources. Water from the tap is subjected to stringent quality controls, the public can easily access information about its bacteriological and chemical content, and its price - subject to rigorous control - is 500 times lower on average than that of bottled waters.”

Robert Smedley, managing director of East Anglian Water Company, which supplies mains-fed coolers, said: “Our mains-fed machines have ceramic pre-filters purifying the water to less than one micron, it's the best there is. The filter just needs to be changed every four months and they get sanitized at the same time but other than that there's very little maintenance involved.”

Do you think our councils should ban bottled water? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email