My Lords, my thoughts—and, I am sure, those of the whole House—are with those affected by these devastating floods. My thanks go to those, including the emergency services, who have worked tirelessly to protect people and properties. DCLG officials have ensured that local responders have had government support throughout. We announced on Monday the activation of the Bellwin scheme, which supports local authorities, including the emergency services, with the costs associated with flooding of this kind, and yesterday we announced council tax discounts and business rate relief. Today we have announced a further £51 million of funding to support the affected areas’ recovery.
I am sure all Members of your Lordships’ House will join me in paying tribute to the emergency services for the vital work they have done and will continue to undertake in the days ahead for the communities affected by the severe weather in Cumbria. The Chancellor’s announcement today of £51 million for families and businesses from the Treasury’s emergency reserve fund is good news. When will local authorities be able to draw down on these funds? What will be the criteria for expenditure? Will there be any requirements or restrictions? How will families and businesses be able to access the funds they need?
My Lords, I suspect it is too early to give that level of detail but, given that this is a crisis and a disaster, I imagine the funding will be available as quickly as possible. Certainly, the Bellwin funding is available as quickly as possible.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a Cumbrian. Does my noble friend agree that the priority must be, first, to get relief to those who have been so unfortunately, unhappily and disastrously affected and, secondly, to make sure that any additional rain that is threatened does not exacerbate the existing problem?
The Minister has quite rightly praised the emergency services but is she aware that there is another emergency service, which has not been recognised, and that is BBC Radio Cumbria? BBC Radio Cumbria went on for 24 hours a day for two full days and without its assistance the county would not have done as well. Will she join me in paying tribute to it? Secondly, while it is too early to make any analysis, will she tell the House whether there is any truth in the assertion that the £4 million scheme for Kendal was delayed by the coalition Government, and will she give the House an assurance that this Government will not delay it any further?
My Lords, I will join the noble Lord in that. I am sure that Radio Cumbria, just like all the other members of the community, really pulled together over the last few days to help in quite a devastated area. Like every other person who could play their part, I am sure Radio Cumbria has added to mitigating some of the agony of the people who live there. We are looking at a potential scheme to reduce the risk of flooding in Kendal but it is at an early stage of planning. Within the six-year programme, the proposed Kendal scheme is scheduled for 2020-21. We are considering with other funding partners how we can bring this scheme forward to improve protection for 440 properties, at a predicted cost of £3.95 million.
My Lords, these flood events are becoming increasingly frequent and all differ in some respect. Can my noble friend tell your Lordships what arrangements exist for the emergency services and local authorities involved in each event to exchange information, so that guidance on best practice and the preparatory arrangements for these events can be made on a national scale?
I am sorry but I think we should go to the Bishop.
My Lords, I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will appreciate that this is probably a matter for God because every time that we have tried to predict, an even worse event has occurred. I do not make that point lightly. We are constantly reviewing the flood defences and how we can respond.