Anger at flood defence cuts

by Daphne Liddle

THE VICTIMS of the enormous floods in the north of England and in Scotland are growing increasingly angry after learning that the Government was warned by its own agencies that cuts to flood defences would leave them vulnerable.

A document prepared last year by the Association of Drainage Authorities, which represents public bodies responsible for managing water levels, was discussed by ministers. It said that reductions in public funding could leave almost twice as many households at “significant risk” of flooding in the next 20 years.

The document said: “The rivers and coasts of some rural areas are at a major crossroads and their funding is purely based on the benefits of flood risk to people and property as calculated currently.

“The Environment Agency has reduced the extent of their watercourse channel maintenance and taken steps to stop operating a number of structures and systems. Examples include lowland catchments across Lancashire and Cumbria.”

The Government has cut revenue funding for flood prevention by 14 per cent. Meanwhile local authorities have suffered total budget cuts of up to 40 per cent and been forced to cut back on flood prevention work.

Almost exactly two years ago vast areas of Somerset, East Anglia and the Thames Valley suffered horrendous flooding.

The GMB union, which represents staff at the Environment Agency, pointed out at the time the madness of further cuts on the agenda.

In January 2014 the union condemned Government claims that there would be no impact on frontline staff due to the projected cut of up to 1,700 jobs, and said that the cuts would increase the risk of flooding and threaten the good management of water resources in England.

The union responded to Coalition government claims that it was stepping up capital spending on new flood defences by pointing out that it was cutting maintenance on existing flood defences to almost nothing.

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

“For one area in the EA the proposed revenue budget is down to 10 per cent of last year’s budget; a 90 per cent cut. 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.

“These cuts to revenue budgets have led to the stark proposals of cutting manpower as the zero option to the cuts: the manpower that visits trash grilles to keep them clear to ensure free flows, the manpower that will lift out trees that block the river, the manpower that fills sandbags, and acts as the liaison to the public that are directly affected by flood waters.”

It will surprise no one that the £400 million capital spending on new flood defences promised in January 2014 — inadequate though it was — was one of the first things to be cut after the 2015 general election.

And now, two years on, hundreds of householders are again counting the costs of flooding that the Government claims it could not have foreseen.

Meanwhile the fire and rescue services have also suffered big cuts and are threatened by more, leaving flood victims waiting longer to be rescued.

There have been some amazing reports of ordinary citizens organising help and support for flood victims. One flood victim living in Cumbria wrote: “As temporary residents we were a bit hidden away, unknown, while we huddled together with flu in candlelight, frightened we would run out of juice on the phone.

“However when we ventured out we found extraordinary community spirit in Hebden town hall. I was particularly inspired by the Sikhs with no connection to the area who travelled up from Coventry to provide mouth-watering food; I will never forget them.

“And the Muslim lads from Croydon, similarly with no connection to here either. And this nearly killed me: Syrian refugees who came over from Manchester to help out.”

As the victims do their best to get by in temporary accommodation, not knowing if further floods are to come, they can ponder on the FTSE 100 top chief executives who, by last Tuesday 5th January — known as “Fat Cat Tuesday” — had already made as much money as the average worker can expect to earn in a whole year.