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Internal Drainage Boards: Levies

Volume 838: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of increases in internal drainage board levies on local authorities.

The Government are aware of the pressures that certain councils have experienced due to the increasing internal drainage board levies. In 2023-24, we assessed the impact of the levies on local authorities and provided £3 million in additional grant funding to the 15 that are most severely affected. Having listened to local authorities, the Government have announced a further £3 million of support in 2024-25. We are currently assessing the impact of this year’s increase in levies on local authorities and will announce the distribution of funding in due course.

My Lords, the £3 million does not touch the sides. Councils are charged this levy to manage water levels in their area. Since 2016 they have been expected to fund it through council tax. The financial impact shows that it has increased by almost £11 million in two years, beyond the council tax capping limit of 30 authorities involved, such as Boston, where the levy consumes 58% of the council tax, and Great Yarmouth, which saw 91% of its council tax increase consumed. Councils have been told repeatedly that the Government are looking for a long-term solution, so where is that solution, when is it coming, and will the Government meet the representatives to determine a solution before the end of the financial year?

Yes, I am very happy to meet those people with the noble Baroness. If she gets in touch with my office, we will arrange that.

My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities. Does my noble friend agree that the drainage boards play a crucial role in low-lying areas to alleviate the flood risk? Given the unprecedented weather events of the past 18 months—the wettest on record since 1836—will she commit the Government to undertaking a comprehensive review of water management and flood risk resilience to ensure that low-lying areas are not placed at greater risk in the future?

DLUHC has already committed to work with the sector and with Defra to implement, as my noble friend quite rightly says, what needs to be a long-term solution. Both departments recognise the importance of the issue and will continue to explore options. I welcome the sector’s views on this and will undertake data gathering as part of the work.

Internal drainage boards perform an essential function in geographically managing flood water—and this comes at a cost. If this is borne locally, other essential services will be depleted. Can the Minister comment on whether the Government would be prepared to spread this cost across all councils, not just those that habitually suffer flooding?

I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from, but that is not what the Government had envisaged. We are looking at the data and those councils that are under the greatest pressure because of the issues of water in their areas. That is how we will continue to do it this year—led by data.

My Lords, I declare my interests on the register. Up until May last year—as some noble Lords and certainly the Minister will be aware—when the electorate unceremoniously but quite wisely decided I should have more time in my diary, I used to lead a council that suffered the unfairness of the way the drainage board levies are currently raised. Over 50% of our council tax increases used to go to pay the drainage board and over 50% of council tax in total used to go to pay the drainage board. In the last two years, over 100% of what we collected in council tax increases went to pay the drainage board. Obviously, I do not blame my noble friend’s department for that, but does she agree that this is cost shunting from Defra to DLUHC and that, perhaps, a joint meeting between Defra and DLUHC to get a resolution would probably be best for the sector?

That is exactly where we are going. As my noble friend said, it is up to DLUHC and Defra—and local authorities—to get together and work out the future of this funding.