Third time [un]lucky, Mr Paterson? On Saturday we posted on the Environment Secretary and Ancient Woodlands. Last week we published an article about the manner in which the coalition government has cut flood defence spending in the UK. There is further news to report!
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Background
Mr Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Defra), has constantly and vigorously denied that the Coalition has cut flood defence spending, but always without showing credible evidence. He suggests that they have devolved some responsibility for flood defences to local authorities and implies that they have failed to spend the money.

But everyone knows that funding for local authorities, such as Leeds, has been slashed.

Following a cut of £200m in the government grant to Leeds City Council the coalition government, in cash terms, is cutting the government grants for Leeds by £36.2m in 2014-15 and a further £28.7m the following year.

This is happening all over England! First the government takes money away from authorities and then it blames them for not spending money they don’t have! And finally it identifies notional amounts for flood defence spending ‘absorbed’ by the authorities and claims they, the government, have spent it!!

Calling the Coalition’s Bluff
Now, national news media are reporting that the coalition government has plans to make hundreds of flood specialists redundant. Following the Chancellor’s statements, the latest in autumn 2013, the Environment Agency is being forced to make cuts estimated at 1600 posts of which 550 will be staff employed on flood protection. All this in the face of the current flooding crisis, the record numbers of flood warnings issued last year and fears the number will continue to grow because of climate change.

Paterson, a climate change sceptic, doesn’t deny the cuts but claims that no front-line staff will be axed. Defra says that cuts are necessary but it is up to the Environment Agency to make choices about what or how many services should be cut. In a carefully phrased response, the Agency has said that it ‘will do its best to protect front-line responses.’

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole can afford to be blunter:
“On the same day that the Environment Agency chief executive said that it’s inevitable that Defra’s cuts will impact on their ability to deal with flooding, Owen Paterson’s bizarre claim that these front-line services will be protected will ring hollow for all those affected by the current flooding.
“Every £1 invested in protecting us from flooding saves £8 in damages. Cutting flood defence spending is a false economy and David Cameron now needs to intervene.”

Matthew Lay, a Unison national officer, said: “Staff in the Agency have worked day and night to keep communities safe and prevent flood damage, and work tirelessly to support those devastated by the aftermath. The Government can’t have it both ways, praising the sterling work of members in the agency but at the same time imposing further damaging cuts.”

Exactly! But isn’t this just what the Lib Dem/Tory government has made its speciality? Making the cuts and blaming everyone else.

What does this mean?
Labour spending on flood defence increased by 33% over its final three years in office. However, as soon as George Osborne and Lib Dem’s Danny Alexander took charge of the Treasury spending on flood defence was cut.

In December 2010, a report of the Common’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee stated 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.”

We thought Ms McIntosh and her committee were right in 2010 and we know that they have been proven right since.
But don’t expect this privileged, austerity-ideologically driven bunch of cloth-eared clowns and their cheer-leaders, such as Leeds North West Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, to listen to people who know what they’re talking about anytime soon.

You might possibly think their behaviour is laughable, except citizens’ well-being and even lives are at stake.

Britain Can Be Better Than This

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