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Flooding: Relief Effort

Volume 768: debated on Monday 25 January 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the capacity of local authorities to manage the relief effort in areas affected by flooding in December 2015 following the 29 per cent cut to the budget of the Department for Communities and Local Government announced in the Autumn Spending Review.

My Lords, we are working closely with authorities to help get those affected back into their homes and businesses back on their feet. We have already pledged almost £200 million help those affected by the floods and to support the recovery and repair of communities. In addition, Rory Stewart MP and Robert Goodwill MP will act as flooding envoys, giving authorities a dedicated champion co-ordinating the flood recovery operation across local agencies.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Proper effective flood defences should mitigate much of the need for flood relief to be provided. The Prime Minister, in response to a question last week in the other place, confirmed that the Government do indeed have a long-term strategic flood plan and it consists of more than simply giving a name to the storms as they come across the Atlantic. I therefore ask the Minister when this plan was drawn up, what it consists of and whether, in the Government’s assessment, it would be more effective in the short-term in protecting Britain, particularly in the north, from the fast-approaching Storm Jonas, than it was in protecting us against Desmond, Eva or Frank.

My Lords, the Prime Minister also said that we are going to have a complete review of how we mitigate flooding because the floods, both Desmond and Eva—and hopefully not Jonas—have seen unprecedented patterns in terms of both the strength of the rainfall and the destruction done. Therefore, there is going to be a complete review of how we actually manage flooding as well as the flow of water that we talked about in this House last week.

Boom, boom, my Lords. He acts as a co-ordinator of what is being done and if anything in addition needs to be done in supporting those areas in managing the relief operation.

My Lords, there is a suggestion that the Government are now considering applying to the EU Solidarity Fund after all. Would the Minister agree that it would make sense to do so, since there would be a net financial gain to the United Kingdom?

My Lords, we are considering all forms of support, not at all ruling out using the EU Solidarity Fund, but in considering whether to use that fund, it is important to note how long it would take for the funding to be received and what ultimate cost/benefit it would bring, given that it would not actually bring additional funding.

My Lords, it is reported today that, after encouragement from the Government, the local authorities in Somerset are increasing their council tax to pay for flood defences. It is suggested in the north that the same encouragement will be made to Cumbria County Council. Will the Minister give us a categorical assurance today that Cumbria County Council will not be expected to pay for the almost £0.5 billion in flood repairs?

My Lords, it is entirely up to local authorities, when considering whether or not to increase their council tax, what their priorities are and what the money would go towards, but we have protected flood funding and are considering whether to ring-fence it. The case of Cumbria was brought up last week in your Lordships’ House. If there are additional infrastructure repairs that Cumbria feels that the Government have not considered, I invite the council to come to me with them and we can either deal with them ourselves or ask the Department for Transport to consider them.

My Lords, will my noble friend explain what the timetable for the flood plan and review is? Can she confirm to the House that, short of ring-fencing the flood relief funds allocated to local authorities, they are competing with claims for the vulnerable—the very old and the very young?

My Lords, ring-fencing is being considered in the light of recent events, but we are going out to consultation on it. On speed of repair, we are doing things as quickly as possible.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the allocation of any central funds by the Government will be on the basis of need, not on any arithmetic formula? That being so, can she further confirm that the resources made available to the devolved legislatures will also be on the basis of need and not on something such as the Barnett formula?

My Lords, they will be on the basis of need, but areas that have experienced higher than usual disruption because of flooding will also need to be considered.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentions unprecedented floods, but in Cumbria this is the third once-in-a-lifetime flood event in the past 10 years. Is it perhaps time that the Government improved their attitude towards climate change and introduced some policies that would help people to prevent such floods in future, which can be done?

I think that the noble Baroness has a valid point, in the sense that we are seeing a lot of unprecedented flooding. Has it been a blip in the past, or is it becoming a more frequent trend for the future? That is informing the Government’s thinking in the review and on how we manage flows of water.

My Lords, the coalition Government initially cut the flood defence programme that they inherited from the Labour Government. The Government are presumably now contemplating an increase. What scale of increase are the Government looking at, and over what period will sustained investment take place?

My Lords, it might be helpful if I outlined that under the Labour Government from 2005 to 2010, £1.5 billion was put into flood defence schemes. Under the coalition Government, £1.7 billion was put into flood defence schemes. Over this Parliament, £2.3 billion will be put into flood defence schemes.

In this discussion about flooded homes, scant regard is being paid to the position of small businesses, particularly on flood plains, very often uninsured and very often faced with the prospect of closing down. Will the Ministers now go to Flood Re and talk to these people about enhancing its scheme to help small businesses to be protected in future flooding incidents?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right in saying that Flood Re does not cover businesses. One reason may be that there might be a state aid issue in providing insurance for businesses. We understand that it is not so much a problem for small businesses as it is for households. Nevertheless, we are working together with the industry to make sure and keep an eye on businesses that might struggle to get flood insurance.