The leader of Cumbria County Council has criticised United Utilities amid claims it has not done enough to stop flooding in Carlisle.

But water firm bosses have hit back, insisting that Stewart Young’s comments do not reflect the company’s level of work and investment in the city’s public sewer system and the water mains network.

They also stressed that they are not responsible for private pipes running under the city which remain the property of landowners, and that highway drains are the responsibility of the local authority.

Describing Mr Young’s comments as disappointing, a United Utilities spokesman said it would not be right to link events like Storm Desmond with lack of action on their part.

The county council leader launched the broadside at a meeting of the authority’s local committee for Carlisle earlier this week.

He said: “If there’s been a flood or an emergency they get called out, but they don’t do regular maintenance.

“Now it’s a private company, they want to maximise their profits and an easy way to do that is to reduce regular maintenance and now they do reactive maintenance.

“The consequence of that for some of our communities is that they flooded as a result of the infrastructure not being properly maintained.

“The upshot is the community are not getting the service that they deserve and there are some serious questions to ask to companies like United Utilities who now own that infrastructure that was paid for by the public purse.

“That infrastructure has been there for years, ever since the estates were built, and they are not maintaining it and the consequences are there for everybody to see. It is a serious issue and I think it is one that we should return to.”

A company spokeswoman said: “We carry out a huge and comprehensive programme of proactive maintenance and investment on all our assets.

“In terms of Carlisle’s sewers, this includes spending tens of millions of pounds in recent years to expand network capacity and upgrade treatment facilities, plus a proactive annual programme to desilt and maintain pipes to ensure they function effectively.

“There’s nothing we’ve have stopped doing since privatisation. In fact, we’re investing considerably more and our planned desilting programme in Carlisle is significantly bigger now.

“This doesn’t mean that problems never occur. We respond 24 hours to incidents and use these to inform and prioritise our investment plans.

“However, it would not be right to equate serious events like Storm Desmond with lack of action on our part. When a river overtops three metre flood defences, it will overwhelm public and private drainage systems of any size.

“Both United Utilities and Carlisle City Council were among a number of agencies to deliver a programme of recovery activities following the storm which helped restore the functionality of drainage systems. We made extra money available for this work and have completed everything we committed to.”

Mr Young singled out regular flooding at Oaklands Drive, but the utilities company said this was the result of an issue on private third-party pipes which do not belong to the company.

The company also said they had allowed the flooding responders to use their network to dispose of flood water to prevent further risk to property.

Robert Betton, Independent councillor for Botcherby, also took issue with Mr Young’s comments, describing the service from United Utilities as “absolutely excellent”.