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House of Commons Hansard
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12 June 2014
Volume 582
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3. What steps the Government have taken to respond to recent flooding. [904170]

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The Government have committed more than £560 million in support of those affected by the recent flooding. That includes an extra £270 million to repair and maintain critical defences that were damaged in the winter storms, targeted help for households through the repair and renew grant and council tax relief, and help for farmers and fishermen with funding for repairs through existing schemes. We have also provided businesses with business rate relief and a £10 million hardship fund.

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I thank the Minister for his response. Despite the lessons of this winter, the Environment Agency is still set to lose hundreds of front-line staff because of DEFRA budget cuts. The agency’s chief executive has admitted that that will mean fewer resources for maintenance work. Does the Minister think it is responsible to cut the agency’s resources at a time when flood risk is increasing?

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The Secretary of State and I work closely with the Environment Agency and talk to it about its key responsibilities. I met the chief executive yesterday to discuss issues of waste crime, and so on. He was clear that front-line vital services provided by the agency are protected, and it will use the expertise of more than 10,000 staff who will be in place throughout this year to do their work. They do a fine job.

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14. Will my hon. Friend meet me and a representative from Cornwall council to work out funding for areas around my constituency that were damaged by floods and in this year’s storms? [904185]

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I will meet Cornwall council tomorrow and we can discuss those issues. I do not know whether my hon. Friend or a member of her staff will be there, but I will be happy to raise any local issues with the council so that we can work through them.

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In February, the Prime Minister promised that “money is no object” in the Government’s response to the winter floods. Four months on, only £530,000 has been paid to farmers out of the supposed £10 million available in the farming recovery fund, and only £2,320 has been paid to fishermen out of the supposed £74,000 approved under the support for fishermen fund. Why is that much needed support not getting to the people it is supposed to be helping?

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I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing “supposed” about those totals, and the money is there for people to bid for—the key question is encouraging people to do so. My hon. Friends and I, as well as agricultural shows, for example, continue to emphasise that people should apply for that money, and we have simplified the system. Many applications are currently being processed, and I encourage all people eligible for those funds—whether farming, fishing or the other funds I have set out—to apply and make use of that money.

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Somerset is no longer flooded and dredging has started, which is good news. The Minister will know that one of our key asks is to have a sustainable future for maintenance, which involves setting up a Somerset rivers authority with its own revenue stream. Will the Minister update us on what progress has been made on that?

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My hon. Friend and other Somerset Members have, understandably, consistently raised that issue, and I am delighted that the strategy put in place to deal with such matters is moving forward. Someone has been appointed to take the lead on that, and the Secretary of State was in the area last week. I spoke to people at the Royal Bath and West show, and I am delighted that all the measures that people think will make a difference locally can now be taken forward.

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To underline the fact that the Government are directing funds to flood defences, will the Minister reassure me that appropriate funding will be available for maintenance and necessary new infrastructure to defend the Severn estuary?

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During this financial year the Environment Agency will invest £380,000 in maintaining flood defences and structures on the Severn estuary in Gloucestershire, and an additional £2 million will be invested to repair flood defences and structures damaged during the winter floods.