The government, and Owen Paterson in particular, have been criticised for not doing enough about flooding. Here, then, are three things they are doing.
1. Spending less on flood defences
There has been a drastic real-terms cut in spending on flood defences under the coalition, despite David Cameron’s insistence that spending is higher than ever. When Cameron says the coalition is spending more on flood defences he is right – but only if you ignore inflation. In real terms spending has gone down.
Meanwhile, climate change is increasing the risk of flooding much faster than any increase in spending on defences. Friends of the Earth (F0E) has criticised Cameron’s “far from watertight calculations”, stating that his claims do not stand up to scrutiny.
Nearly 300 flood defines schemes across England have also been left unbuilt due to government budget cuts.
Spending on flood defences:
- Labour – £646m 2010-11
- The coalition – £546m 2011-15 (15 per cent drop)
2. Blaming local councils instead of taking responsibility for cuts
Paterson claimed the “storm response was patchy” due to the low number of staff working during the Christmas holidays. The environment secretary has also stated that the “response of some councils and utility companies had left room for improvement”.
This tactic of shifting blame onto local councils and away from central government has been attacked by the environment, food and rural affair parliamentary committee of MPs, who argue that the “massive and ongoing cuts [rolled out by central government] are jeopardising the Environmental Agency’s ability to respond to emergencies such as flooding”. (today’s Guardian, page 4)
3. Cutting a further 1,500 jobs at the Environment Agency
The Environment Agency is cutting 1,500 jobs this year – 15 per cent of the workforce; jobs which play a crucial role in dealing with extreme weather conditions such as flooding. 550 of the jobs being lost are staff who deal specifically with flooding issues.
Paterson’s department are failing to accept blame for the effects of the crippling cuts. The environment secretary has been attacked by a number of MPs, who say he must come clean about how budget cuts will affect the country’s ability to cope with rising instances of flooding. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) budget is to be cut by a further £300m in the next two years.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.