MPs' concerns cuts could affect Defra's flood response

MPs have said it is vital that Defra preserves its ability to respond to emergencies, such as the recent flooding, despite deep cuts to its budget.

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Defra 'prioritise spending on flood defence'

The Government said Defra's spending on flood defence would increase in real terms in the coming years despite budget cuts.

Environment Minister George Eustice told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

We within Defra have prioritised spending on flood defence in difficult times, when budgets across Government are having to be cut.

We've maintained spending on flood defence specifically and we are going to spend around £2.3 billion between 2015 and 2021, which will be an increase in real terms.

So we are committed to constantly keep improving our defence infrastructure when it comes to flooding.

– George Eustice

Flood defences have taken 'a real battering'

Anne McIntosh said flood defences had held despite the severe weather. Credit: Daybreak/ITV

Flood defences have held despite taking "a real battering" over the last few weeks, the head of the environment, food and rural affairs committee has told Daybreak.

Anne McIntosh implied the taxpayer could take some small comfort that "flood defences have held in every scenario in these last few weeks", especially after the Environment Agency had its budget slashed as part of the austerity programme.

However, she warned what little money was available would have to go on maintaining existing flood defences if Britain was to withstand storms in the future:

"They will need to be maintained, so it is not just a case of building new homes in appropriate places....but maintaining those flood defences that have served the country so well in this battering that we have seen over the last few days."

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MPs question Defra about private funding for defences

MPs have asked Defra to provide more information about how private companies will contribute towards the costs of flood defences.

Temporary flood defences at the Connswater River in Belfast Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

A spokesman for Defra said that so-called partnership funding is expected to deliver around £148 million up to 2015.

But today's report from the Efra committee calls for more detail on the level of contributions from businesses and organisations that could benefit from the flood defences, and how this will increase in the future.

Maria Eagle: Defra must explain impact of cuts

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle has called on Defra to explain how cuts to the Environment Agency, which it funds, will not have an "adverse impact" on communities at risk of flooding.

[Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has] failed to prioritise investment in flood defences, nor explained how communities at risk from flooding will not be adversely impacted by major reductions in Environment Agency staff, despite evidence that extreme weather conditions are set to become more frequent.

Defra spending 'more money than ever' on tackling floods

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has rebutted concerns raised by MPs that the department may struggle to deal with future flooding as a result of cuts to its budget.

Water covers the coastal roads at Clevelys near Blackpool Credit: John Giles/PA Wire

A spokesman said the department was currently spending "more money than ever before" on tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion, putting the figure at more than £2.3 billion.

"We'll also be making record levels of capital investment and will be spending over £400 million by 2020/21," he added.

"In addition we have provided the Environment Agency with an above-inflation increase of £5 million on their floods maintenance work in 2015/16."

Recent flooding 'reinforces concerns' about Defra cuts

The chairwoman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) parliamentary committee, Anne McIntosh, has said that the recent flooding reinforces her concerns about Defra's ability to cope on a smaller budget:

Defra is a small ministry facing massive budget cuts and which relies on a large number of arms-length bodies to deliver many significant areas of policy.

Ministers must clarify how further budget cuts over £300 million over the next ... two years will impact on the funding provided to these agencies and the ability of the department to respond to emergencies ...

Recent flooding events over the Christmas and New Year period reinforce the Committee's concerns about cuts to the Defra budget and how these will be realised.

– Anne McIntosh, chair, efra committee

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