A TRADE union has criticised the “whopping” pay of bosses at the region’s water companies.

Chris Loughlin, chief executive of the Pennon Group – which bought Bournemouth Water in 2016 – has earned £3.3million in pay, pension and benefits over the past five years.

The Pennon Group, which owns South West Waster, paid Mr Loughlin £660,000 in 2017. In Bournemouth Water’s last year before it was sold, its highest-paid director received £220,000,

The chief executive of Wessex Water, Colin Skellett, received £462,000 in salary and benefits in 2016-17, and £2.5m over the past five years.

The GMB is today launching a Take Back the Tap campaign to bring England’s water companies back into public ownership.

It says consumers’ bills in England and Wales have risen by 40 per cent more than inflation while bosses have been enjoying rising salaries.

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “It is a national scandal over the last five years England’s hard-pressed water customers have been forced to splash millions through their bills to go into the pockets of just nine individuals.”

He added: “Privatisation of the water industry has been a costly mistake and these eye-watering sums are further proof the water industry must be returned to public hands.

“GMB is urging people and politicians to Take Back the Tap and make our water services work for the many and not the few. Water is the most natural monopoly and should be in public hands.”

A statement from Pennon Group stressed that Chris Loughlin was chief executive of the whole group, with “wider responsibilities” than South West Water. South West Water’s managing director Stephen Bird earned £553,000 in 2016-17.

A statement said: “Since 1989 South West Water has invested more than £7billion to transform services and protect the environment, and the company plans to invest up to £9bn more to 2030. Average bills are now lower than they were nine years ago.

“South West Water was the only water and waste water company not to increase its average bill this year.

“Directors’ salaries are a very small part of our costs and reflect the scale and complexity of our business.

“Even so, directors are only rewarded for success against demanding performance targets independently set by a remuneration committee, and any bonuses are agreed in relation to the business areas over which they have control and can influence personally.”

A Wessex Water spokesman said: “Wessex Water’s chief executive Colin Skellett is the longest serving CEO in the water industry and one of the lowest paid.

“Wessex Water is consistently the industry leader for customer service and environmental performance.

“Colin’s salary, in common with all senior executives, is set by an independent remuneration committee comprising shareholder representatives and independent non-executive directors. Pay and bonus is linked closely to company performance, in particular customer service and environmental performance.

“Through significant investment since privatisation, beaches are cleaner, leakage has been halved and drinking water quality is the best it’s ever been.”

The company said its business plan for 2020-2025 would see the highest ever levels of investment and that it was proposing bills would not rise by more than inflation.