The country continues to suffer the effects of the recent extraordinary weather. The Government are determined to do everything possible to help those communities affected to recover as quickly as they can.
This statement updates the House on further changes being made to the Bellwin scheme which provides emergency financial assistance to local authorities in England.
The Bellwin scheme is designed to help local authorities recover the immediate and additional costs they incur when taking action to safeguard lives and properties or to prevent suffering and inconvenience to local residents. The scheme normally works through an application to my Department by local authorities once they have determined costs incurred to receive reimbursement.
Last week I took steps to strengthen this scheme in response to the exceptional circumstances caused by this winter’s flooding. The Government will now pay 100% of the costs incurred above the threshold, rather than the usual 85%. We have reduced the threshold for all county councils and unitary authorities to make it easier for them to claim Bellwin support. This is the first time that the thresholds have been reduced in 30 years. In a related measure, we have allowed upper-tier authorities with responsibility for fire to claim Bellwin on a comparable basis to stand-alone fire authorities for fire-related costs.
I am today announcing a further extension of this scheme to provide certainty and financial security to local authorities in the front line. First, local authorities now have until the end of May to incur eligible spending recognising the extended nature of the weather. This vital extension will give councils the reassurance that they will have time to deal with the effects of the weather and still have time to properly assess local costs.
Secondly, we will allow a large proportion of those Bellwin payments to be made available now, rather than waiting until the situation has cleared up before local authorities can make those claims. This means that local authorities will have access to the cash they need right now to deal with the pressing problems caused by the weather. Local authorities simply need to put in a request to my Department and we will pay up to 80% of spending which is eligible under the Bellwin scheme. We will pay the remainder upon receipt of the formal claim through the usual channels. This will be paid quickly, with as little bureaucracy as possible. These changes recognise the exceptional nature of the situation which communities are facing.
For the avoidance of doubt, where local authorities issue sandbags as a result of an emergency the cost can be claimed through the Bellwin scheme. In that context, I wish to be clear that no local authority should be charging their residents for sandbags.
These changes are one part of the Government’s immediate response to the floods. Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a comprehensive package of new measures to help hard-working homes, businesses and farmers hit by the recent flooding including a £5,000 “repair and renew” grant for all affected home owners and businesses for when the flood waters subside; £10 million for farmers and a commitment to give affected businesses relief from business rates; together with investment plans to strengthen our flood defences with a further £130 million for the future.
The Government’s emergency committee continues to meet regularly to lead the national response and we will continue to do everything we can to help the emergency services, local authorities and community members to deal with the extremely difficult situation they are facing. I would like to praise the ongoing hard work of local authorities and the emergency services and I hope that today’s announcement will give them the financial confidence to continue serving their local residents in these challenging times.