Gordon Brown won't spend any more money on flood defence. Charlie Whelan says the government just doesn't care
I must confess that it is difficult to have too much sympathy with the thousands of people whose homes were flooded last year.
While it wasn't their fault that we had one of the wettest winters in years, the fact is that many houses were built on flood plains. It seems obvious that if you live in such an area then at some time in your life you will be flooded out. However, it was not just homes that were drenched, businesses got wet too.
I have even less sympathy for them. It is no accident that the majority of businesses threatened by flooding are DIY superstores and supermarkets. They know the cheapest land will be prone to flooding, but are prepared to take the risk. How just it would be, if insurers refused them cover?
When we are told on the news how much these floods cost, what they don't tell us is that we are paying the bills through higher premiums. It is right that the insurance industry should question why they should continue to insure people in high risk areas if the government is not prepared to put more money into flood defence. We will find out what the government's intentions are when Gordon Brown has his comprehensive spending review next week.
This is when the Chancellor announces all spending for the next three years. This used to happen annually, but Gordon Brown decided early on in government, well actually, while in opposition, that too much time was wasted every year with departments arguing with the Treasury over their annual budgets. Doing it every three years also gives the Chancellor far more power... something this one seems to like a lot.
Brown has now ensured that he makes all the major setpiece Commons' statements. First there is the Budget, which still guarantees massive media coverage even though we all know in advance what is in it. Second, Brown introduced the Pre-Budget report which has become a second Budget. Third, and most important, we now have the comprehensive spending review.
It will come as no surprise to learn that every department puts in for more money than it needs and that the Treasury offers each department much less than they want. But if you are the defence secretary and you want two brand new aircraft carriers and the Chancellor thinks that this is a little excessive then you go running to the Prime Minister behind the Chancellor's back to complain.
The Ministry of Defence knows prime ministers, particularly the present one, love military hardware and so will give them a sympathetic ear. On this one the PM usually wins out but the Treasury will have already taken into account Number 10's desire to spend more on defence than is necessary so will have made cuts elsewhere. And guess where savings can be made? On things that don't matter, like flood defence.
So next time we have big floods and people are made homeless and Tony Blair pays a visit to commiserate with them, remember what he values most. I wouldn't put too much money on Gordon Brown being too generous to anyone outside the health service and education in this spending review.