John Jackson says the government is underestimating the seriousness of the regular flooding crisis
It is time that the government began treating the crisis surrounding the now regular flooding as a national emergency, such as occurs in the United States when the President issues a decree, putting the full force of the federal government to work.
Currently, the government is playing catch-up. Former prime minister, Tony Blair, announced that £800m was being made available for flood defences, but although this injection of taxpayers’ money is welcome, it is only scratching at the surface.
In the United States, the National Guard is put into the front line to assist local services. This would be an ideal role for the Territorial Army (TA).
Unfortunately, the TA is undergoing financial cuts and is overstretched with its duties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But while the government has announced £15m of cuts from the current management of flood defences and slashed nearly £24m from the budget of the Environment Agency (EA), which has responsibility for flood management, the trend is more backwards than forwards.
A flying visit to Yorkshire by Gordon Brown offering a measly £14m is not the way to do it. Hull City Council faces a £200m bill with one in five of its residents affected.
The council cannot possibly find such a sum – or, rather, its council taxpayers cannot.
Moreover, many people either have no insurance or cannot obtain cover.
The uninsured who could obtain cover should be asked where their priorities lie – the taxpayer should not pick up the tab for those who refuse to cover themselves. If motor insurance is compulsory, why not basic home contents and building cover?
“The uninsured who could obtain cover should be asked where their priorities lie, the taxpayer should not pick up the tab for those who refuse to cover themselves. If motor insurance is compulsory, why not basic home contents and building cover?
With the prime minister announcing another three million houses to be built, how many will be on flood plains?
How many will be uninsurable? Why should insurers pick up the tab for properties built on dodgy sites?
Within this confused scenario there seems to be a battle going on between the EA, a statutory consultant for planning applications on flood plains, and local authorities on where to build.
Help is also desperately needed for the many businesses that have been affected. Many will be out of action for months – some will close with job losses, adding to the problem and worsening the social and economic fabric of localities.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office claims that only 57% of the flood defence systems are in a “preferred” condition – an alarming figure.
These are serious wake-up calls to the government.
The current flooding is estimated by the ABI to cost insurers £1.5bn, so an increase in premiums in many areas seems inevitable, probably accounting for even fewer people taking out insurance.
Other areas may become uninsurable. It is a self-defeating exercise.
It is time for the industry to get round the table with government and its agencies and sort this problem out once and for all. IT