I’m just back from my appearance in the Houses of Parliament on the EFRA Select Committee looking into the hot issue of flooding. Since becoming the Chair of the Local Government Association’s Inland Flood Risk Working Group we have wrestled with many aspects of central and local government approaches to the issue just as some of the worst flooding events ever experienced were hitting towns and vilages up and down the country. In all around 7,800 homes were flooded and some more than once.
One of the first issues raised by the Select Committee's Chair Ann Mcintosh MP was whether or not the funding provided by government was meeting the need for flood prevention measures. I pointed out the fact that the additional £120 million provided by government for schemes was a ‘drop in the ocean’ and that the flood alleviation scheme for Runnymede alone would cost around £200million. I was asked about the effectiveness of the Bellwin scheme - central government funding for flood hit councils. After a flood event such as hit Calderdale last year was not unusual to see government ministers giving interviews mentioning how central government emergency funds will be brought in under the Bellwin scheme to help out local Councils. To qualify for the scheme the damage must cost more than around 2% of a Councils annual budget. Millions of pounds worth of funds have to be incurred by Councils before they can be considered for Bellwin assistance. There are also an awful lot of items not covered by the Bellwin scheme such as damage to rads and infratructure. Calderdale incurred costs of around £2.5million following the Hebden Bridge/Todmorden Floods but under the Bellwin formula only qualified for around £80k. I was also probed about how Partnership funding was working. This is where central government funding for flood defences is matched against other sources such as private and Council funding. In many places there are no large companies to put their hand in their pocket to cover the cost of defences so often costs can fall on cash strapped councils or private householders. It is possible that some worthy schemes where there is a need for flood defences might fail due to lack of support funding and less worthy schemes are prioritised.
After making these points one of the MP’s on the Committee (Conservative I’m guessing) asked me what I would cut to pay for flood defences. As he was asking (and I was trying to be helpful) I suggested cutting the billions of pounds being allocated to HS2 and Trident. He didn’t probe deeper. Maybe he agreed.
Here's a link to video footage of the meeting