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Cuts will hit flood response

Tom Wall08/01/2014 - 12.00

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Budget cuts threaten flood defences
Budget cuts threaten flood defences

Defra spending cuts are threatening its ability to deal with emergencies such as the Christmas floods, MPs have warned.

Anne McIntosh, the Conservative chair of the environment food and rural affairs select committee, said Defra faced among the ‘most substantial’ budget cuts, which are set to continue up to 2016.

‘Defra is a small ministry facing massive budget cuts which relies on a large number of arms length bodies to deliver many significant areas of policy. Ministers must clarify how further budgets cuts of over £300m over the coming two years will impact on the funding provided to these agencies and the ability of the department to respond to emergencies,’ she said

The Environmental Agency (EA), which is funded by Defra, is planning to shed 1,700 jobs by October. This comes on top the 1,150 jobs it has lost since 2009.

Ms McIntosh added: ‘Recent flooding events over the Christmas and New Year period reinforce the committee's concerns about cuts to the Defra budget and how these will be realised.’

Official figures show that government investment in flood defences has dropped from £2.36bn in 2007-2011 to £2.32bn in 2011-2015.

The government, however, claims an extra £148m had been pledged through Defra’s partnership funding scheme for flood defences, which replaces central government funding with money from local authorities and the private sector.

Ms McIntosh has asked ministers to confirm how much is coming from the private sector. 

In 2012 it emerged that less than 4 per cent came from the private sector but Defra now refuses to release the figures on grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

‘We have asked the department to confirm the amount of contributions received from external sources under the partnership funding approach and to demonstrate how the partnership funding model for flood defences will deliver much greater private sector funding in the future,’ she said.

The GMB, which represents staff at the agency, said the EA cuts would hit frontline workers who keep trash grilles clear, lift trees out of rivers, fill sandbags, and help flood victims.

Justin Bowden, GMB national officer, said the government was hailing capital investment but ignoring the ‘massive cuts’ which were being made to revenue budgets for flood defences.

‘Revenue monies is what is used for maintaining existing defences, which is just as important as building new ones. If we don't it's like having a new car and never getting it serviced; it will soon fail,’ he said.

He added that in one area the proposed revenue budget cut was 90 per cent.

‘This will mean a lack of maintenance not only to flood defence assets that control flood waters, but little maintenance to the rivers themselves which are the main conveyors of flood water,’ he said.

Defra admitted it had to make savings but stressed it could still deal with emergencies such as flooding.

‘Like all departments we have to make efficiency savings, but we are confident that our ability to respond to emergencies remains as strong as ever,’ said a Defra spokesperson.

It claimed it was investing more money than ever before on tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion.

‘We’re investing over £2.3 billion in this spending period on tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion. Together with contributions from other partners, this is more money than ever before. We’ll also be making record levels of capital investment and will be spending over £400m by 2020/21,’ said the spokesperson.


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