Spending watchdog warns that local government lacks flooding experts


Councils will be hard-pressed to plug the funding gap resulting from the government’s decision to cut its spending on flood defences, the National Audit Office has warned.

A new report on flood risk management from the public spending watchdog, published today, says that the government’s decision to give greater responsibility to local authorities over flooding raises “significant challenges”.

In the light of the government’s decision in last year’s comprehensive spending review to cut flood protection spending, the NAO says maintaining and improving such defences will depend on “significant additional funding being secured locally.”  

The watchdog found that local bodies will be hard-pressed to plug any funding gap while under pressure to deliver a number of other newly devolved responsibilities and facing massive cuts to their own budgets.

The Environment Agency has estimated that to cope with the impact of climate change and repair ageing defences, an additional £20m will be required per annum between 2011 and 2035 to maintain the current level of flood protection.

The report also warns that many councils are experiencing difficulty recruiting and retaining appropriately qualified staff to deal with flood issues, with just 30% of the local authorities canvassed by the NAO believing that they have the required technical expertise.

For example, it says, local knowledge of surface water flood risk is far less advanced than national information on risk of flooding from rivers and the sea.

And the NAO says plans to encourage more local funding could see some defence schemes that have attracted private or other funding going ahead before schemes elsewhere that provide greater benefits.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: “Greater local discretion over how funding is targeted has the potential to improve value for money in flood risk management. Local bodies will have to meet the new expectations placed on them - including that of raising investment locally - while under the pressure of delivering on other newly devolved responsibilities.

“If these challenges are not met, the department’s reforms will have failed to fulfil their potential to increase levels of investment in flood management and value for money to the taxpayer.”