Leeds North West has thankfully not suffered the devastating floods experienced by many folk in the south and west of the UK. One can only imagine the terrible situation faced by the thousands of flood victims. And it looks like another difficult few days are set to follow.
Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has told the British public that they should prepare for yet more flood damage from the storms that are due to hit the UK in the early days of 2014. Of course, we should applaud his candour but beg to ask him why the Government has cut flood defences across the UK for the past three years!!
Coalition Cuts to Flood Defences
In November 2010 David Cameron tried to claim that Government spending on flood defences in the UK for the first 4 years of the coalition government would be roughly comparable with spending over the previous four years. He then conceded that in fact there would be an 8% cut whilst the Head of the Environment Agency said it would be more like a cut of 27%!
Spending during the final four years of Labour’s term of office had risen from £500m in 2007/8 to £665m in 2010/11; an increase of 33%. Labour had acted in response to the serious and damaging floods that had occurred and in anticipation of increased flooding due to climate change.
In December of the same year, a report of the Common’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee reported that the government’s cuts to the UK’s flood defence budgets would leave the country’s five million at-risk homes less protected and the poorest communities losing out to richer areas.
Anne McIntosh, a Conservative MP and chair of the committee, said “Urgent action is needed to ensure that our communities are adequately and effectively protected from flooding.”
In October, 2013, the Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was challenged about the spending cuts for flood spending at a Royal Society of Arts talk concerning the relationship between his department and civil society.
Mr Paterson denied there had been any cut, indeed went on to say that his government was spending more than any previous one had. Addressing Guy Shrubsole, who had had the temerity to question Mr Paterson’s grasp of the truth, the Secretary of State said:
“I’m afraid you can’t shake your head, I’m giving you facts. If we’re going to have a dialogue, I’m giving you a fact, you look me in the eye, you look at the records, you’ve got to respect that I’m giving you the truth.”
Mr Paterson repeated this claim when he visited flood-stricken sites in early December. He said, “We are increasing budgets on flood defences. In the course of this parliament, this government will be spending more than any previous government on flood defences.”
So Mr Shrubsole looked at the record and revealed that Mr Paterson was wrong.
1. According to a definitive House of Commons Library briefing from earlier in the year, “Central Government spending on flood defences will reduce in real terms over the spending review period.”
2. Figures prepared for the Common’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee showed that there was a significant cut in Government spending on flood defences as a result of George Osborne’s spending review in Autumn 2010.
3. The figures showed unequivocally that spending had dropped £98 million in comparison with Labour’s expenditure over the previous four years. This figure does not take into account inflation. The Committee on Climate Change calculates that the Coalition’s cuts represent a 20% reduction in real terms.
Having established that Mr Paterson was wrong, and surely he must know his own figures, Mr Shrubsole went on to note that given the effects of climate change we should be spending even more that Labour had done. Taking into account a number of reports, including one from the Environment Agency, he claims that the underspend on flood defences amounts to around £580 million.
An article by Mr Shrubsole, from which some of the above was taken can be found here.
Mr Paterson has revealed himself to be as slippery with statistics as his colleague Mr Iain Duncan Smith.
And like Mr Duncan Smith he doesn’t like to be challenged.
It is not always clear what the art of government means for the likes of Paterson, Duncan Smith, Clegg and Cameron. It sometimes looks as if it amounts to – not being found out. If so, then they’ve failed – catastrophically by their own book.
What the art of government should focus on for Mr Paterson is protecting the five million at-risk homes. But then they’ve failed again – just as catastrophically, but with serious results for those they are supposed to be governing.
Reporting on a meeting of Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, which he chaired, Mr Paterson said, “We had a range of ministers from right across Government attending the meeting, who will be working very closely with local councils, power companies, utility and transport companies, making sure that all of those organisations are absolutely prepared for the bad weather that is coming.”
Well, Mr Paterson, no doubt low paid public servants and energy supply workers will do their best to relieve the public’s plight as best they can; they always do.
But just think how much better it would be if the Government had not cut spending on flood water defence in the first place.
Some people will lose their homes, their property and perhaps, even, their lives because climate change sceptic, Owen Paterson, has preferred peddling dodgy information and statistics over doing the right thing for Britain.
Britain Can Do Better Than This
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