Following the devastating effects of Storm Desmond and Eva, which sadly resulted in flooding approximately 16,000 homes in England including Saddleworth in my constituency, I would like to extend my sympathy to all those affected and my gratitude to the emergency services, armed forces and volunteers who rallied round to help afflicted communities over the holiday period. I have been monitoring the situation by keeping in touch with local services, receiving briefings from national agencies and continuing to hold this Government to account to ensure that effective support is provided to those affected.
After the 2007 floods, the previous Labour Government established the Pitt Review and established a cross-party consensus on the need for substantial, long-term investment in flood spending. One of the first things David Cameron did when he became Prime Minister was to cut funding for flood protection by £100 million, followed by further cuts. The Coalition was warned that spending on flood defences would have to increase in real terms by £10-30 million each year to maintain existing flood protection by 2030. Instead, the Environment Agency lost 20% of its staff and even after the emergency funding, maintenance spending fell by 6% 2010-11 and 2014-15 in real terms.
Though emergency funding pledged by the Government is welcome, this brings it up to the previous level. The Conservatives have abandoned the flood investment consensus that Labour built previously and the Government has truly failed to protect these communities. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s cuts, which The National Audit Office estimates amounted to 10 per cent over the course of the last Parliament, excluding emergency funding, has contributed to causing devastation to these communities.
In the emergency oral ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday, I raised my concerns by asking the Secretary of State for Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs how those affected by flooding will be supported in rebuilding their homes, which you can read below:
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): A number of homes and businesses in my constituency were affected by floods over the Christmas period. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much of the £600 million of emergency flood money that the Government have announced and which is from sources outside Government is still outstanding? Will she also tell us whether the £5,000 that is available to people who have been affected by floods will apply to those without insurance, and what will happen when their losses are more than £5,000?
Elizabeth Truss: Yes, the £5,000 does apply to people who do not have insurance. The money is being given directly to local authorities to administer, so affected residents should get in touch with their local councils.
The Secretary of State confirmed that Councils can apply for support from the Government. Householders as well as businesses, including those without insurance, can then apply to Councils to cover losses of up to £5,000. However, the Secretary failed to address my question about what happens to those whose losses amount to more than £5,000. I remain concerned about this as the Government made similar promises after the tragic Shaw gas explosion but ultimately Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council received nothing.
It has also not adequately been explained why the Government is not applying to the EU for solidarity funding which the UK is entitled to, though Labour MEPs have written to the prime minister demanding the Government applies immediately. This fund was accessed by the governments of Bulgaria, Italy and Romania to the tune of €66.5 million (£48m), following severe flooding in those countries earlier this year.
There will be an Opposition Day Debate taking place today in Parliament, called on by Labour, which will recognise the steeling efforts of volunteers, armed forces and emergency services but will analyse how the the current Government’s cuts to flood defences have impacted severely on the public as well as pressuring the Government to commit to better flood defences for the future.