The Government are grateful for the response from our front-line emergency services, which were deployed around the clock, including during public holidays. The staff of the fire, ambulance, police and other rescue services, local authorities, the Environment Agency, the voluntary sector, and local communities worked tirelessly in response to the floods. The Flood Forecasting Centre consistently provided high-quality forecasting and was able to predict risks accurately, which enabled timely action to be taken on the ground.
Like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend contacted me during those severe floods and kept me informed. I was able to use the information she gave me in my discussions with the Environment Agency and others, and I am coming down to see for myself the issues in her constituency in the near future. We are better prepared for flooding events than ever before, but that does not mean we are in any way complacent. We learn from every flooding event, and I assure her and her constituents that we will learn and that if improvements can be made, they will be made. I will make sure that we are working across government to achieve the results that her constituents deserve.
On 26 November, the Secretary of State told the House that he would consider targeted emergency funding for communities affected by flooding, such as those in my constituency. Will the Minister tell the House what he has decided to do?
The hon. Lady will be aware that a long-established scheme, the Bellwin scheme, is there to assist local authorities when their recovery costs rise above a particular threshold. I understand that a number of authorities got some funding over 2012 and some did not. I want to work with her and others to ensure that where we can help, we are doing so, and that there is a co-ordinated response to these devastating flood incidents. Nearly 8,000 properties were flooded in 2012, and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them.
Hundreds of homes were badly flooded in my constituency last June, following a freak 36-hour rainstorm. Thousands of my constituents now face problems with flood insurance; I am told of excesses in the tens of thousands of pounds. May I emphasise to my hon. Friend, in his negotiations with the insurance industry and others, the importance to my constituents of finding a replacement for the flood insurance statement of principles as a matter of urgency?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I am coming down to his constituency to hear the concerns of his constituents. I can assure him that we want to achieve something better than the statement of principles, which does not cover all properties and has no element that affects affordability. We recognise that there are real concerns about this, including in my constituency, where insurance premiums are being hiked dramatically. We want to protect those on low incomes who are at flood risk.
The statement of principles runs out in June 2013. The Association of British Insurers considers the negotiations with the Government to be at crisis point and estimates that 200,000 people will be without insurance. What do I say to my constituents who are coming to my surgery asking me what they should do about insurance? This is in absolute disarray.
I entirely reject the idea that our talks with the ABI are at crisis point—nothing could be more different; they are progressing at a very high tempo. We are negotiating with the ABI, with meetings happening on a seemingly daily basis and at the highest level in government. We want to achieve something that is better than the previous Government negotiated with the industry. We are dealing with large international financial institutions. We want to get this right for the taxpayer and those at flood risk, and we are working hard to achieve that.
Six communities in my constituency were flooded three times in 2012—in July, November and December—and people there are naturally desperate about what to do. I realise that there is no money, because of our high-spending predecessors, but can the Minister find any extra resources to put into flood defence and prevention schemes to help my constituents cope with what may happen in the future?
I am glad to inform my hon. Friend that we are spending a lot of money—£2.3 billion of taxpayers’ money—on what the Government should be doing, which is building flood defences. In addition, we are looking carefully to ensure that we are supporting all the relevant agencies, such as the Environment Agency, to ensure that watercourses are flowing and that we are addressing all the factors that contribute to flooding. I entirely understand the desperation that his constituents must feel as a result of repeat flooding events, and we are working hard to deal with those.