Spending review allocation is at odds with rhetoric

Earlier this month, Richard Benyon described investment in flood defences as an “absolute priority” for the coalition government.

Speaking to a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference, the environment minister said: “[Flood defence funding] is in our coalition agreement as an absolute priority. We continue to make this an absolute priority and this is understood at the highest level of government.”

Any hopes that Benyon’s comments signalled protection for flood spending from wider cuts were dashed by Wednesday's comprehensive spending review.

The £2bn allocated for the next four years works out at an average of £500m per annum, which takes annual spending on flood defences back to levels last seen in the middle of the last decade.

As the ABI has pointed out, the £2bn over the next four years compares to £2.15bn worth of spending over the current three-year spending review period, equating to a cut of nearly 30% even before inflation is taken into account.

The reduction in the flood budget is in line with the broader one-third cut to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ budget, hardly reflecting Benyon’s statement that flood defence is an “absolute priority”.

And environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s post-CSR statement that the £2bn allocation maintains flood defence investment hardly squares with the facts.

If this is how the government treats an “absolute priority”, one wonders what it has in line for areas that it doesn’t care about?

One thing is certain - with the government backpedalling on its support for flood defences, the insurance industry has some really hard thinking to do about how it deals with the perennially vexed issue of cover for high flood risk areas.