We've heard the promises, but the government seems to be all talk and no action on the issue of flood defences. It's time Gordon Brown put our money where his mouth is, says John Jackson

The job of Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of the best going - he has the power to dip his hand in everybody's pocket.

And last week he dipped deep into our wallets again to the tune of £62bn, plus giving around 100,000 civil servants their marching orders.

But one area that insurers and brokers were looking at closely as this floodtide of spending of our money was announced was what about future government commitment on expenditure on flood defences?

While it was disappointing that no actual figure was provided for this area so crucial to the insurance industry, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) made clear that flood defences were a priority and spending would increase in line with commitments and inflation.

So far, so good. But as with all government announcements, the devil is in the detail. The government was quick to publicise a figure of 200,000 new homes in the south-east by 2016, which is great news for insurers, brokers and property developers, but bad news for wildlife and people already living in these areas.

Housing generally produced a vast array of detailed expenditure figures following the Chancellor's statement, from social housing through to something called a Community Infrastructure Fund. But there was no figure for flooding - a firm commitment, but no more.

The ABI is anxious to get details from Secretary of State Margaret Beckett, and ABI director-general Mary Francis believes investment for flood defences will provide adequate provision up to 2008. But what about longer term?

The detail is important, as five million people in two million homes are at risk from flooding, and of these an estimated 200,000 properties, domestic and commercial, have become virtually uninsurable. While insurers are continuing to give cover to many householders and commercial property owners at present, their enthusiasm to continue to do so is dependant on getting the defences in place - and quickly.

But the Environment Agency, the body responsible for flood defences, has admitted that some areas will not receive adequate protection for five years and in some particularly vulnerable parts, such as York and Lewes, these defences may be a decade away.

Moreover, the government spending commitment on flood defences of £564m is due to run out in 2006, so some meat is essential to be put on the bare bones of the Defra statement following the Chancellor's spending review statement.

As renewals come in for properties in 'at risk' areas, so premiums are almost certain to rise unless government assurance is provided to insurers. The signs from the Department are positive, and it would be good public relations for the government if the Secretary of State could respond quickly to the ABI's request for more information.