A committee of MPs has warned the government not to cut spending on vital flood protection.
The House of Commons Environment Food & Rural Affairs Committee warns that the reduction in the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affair’s (Defra’s) budgets over the next four years must not lead to any reduction in flood protection work.
The MPs want Defra to produce a plan showing how it will deliver services in the face of further cuts that will reduce administration budgets by more than 25% and overall resource budgets by 15%.
Committee chair Neil Parish MP said: “Defra’s budget reduced by around a quarter in the previous Parliament and the department now faces a further 15% cut by 2020. Savings have to be made, but the department must prioritise front-line work like flood protection.
“We have asked the secretary of state for a clear strategy outlining the impact of spending review cuts on vital services. We welcome Defra’s commitment to a six-year capital flood defence programme and its pledge to protect maintenance funding for activities such as river dredging. This is prudent investment since flood damage may cost more to repair than to prevent. But the increasing risk of more extreme flood events will stretch these budgets thinly.”
Defra’s funding plan relies on the government being able to secure £600m from external contributions – of which only £250m has so far been secured, with only £61m of this from the private sector.
Mr Parish added: “We are pleased that the government is committed to a £2.3bn programme for flood defences over this Parliament. But this relies heavily on investment from the private sector, which has not yet been guaranteed.”
The GMB union, which has members working in the Environment Agency and in local authority flood defence services, welcomed the MPs intervention.
GMB National Officer Justin Bowden said: “This warning from the Environment Food & Rural Affairs Committee is timely. GMB members at the Environment Agency still do not know what day to day spending on maintenance of flood defences from 2016/17 onwards will be. This is apart from the scrapping of hundreds of flood defences due to cuts in spending.
“As things stand the number of staff who will be available to deal with flooding out of hours is due to fall. There will be a meeting in mid-January 2016 to discuss how many jobs will be cut and where.
“The recent floods are yet another reminder of the foolhardy stupidity of the government cutting spending on the Environment Agency. It is quite simply penny wise and pound foolish to make any cuts that affects any of the Agency’s vital functions, or cuts the jobs of those who carry them out.”