Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1000
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2008
WOOLAS MP, MR
So something, technically speaking, is going to be a loser?
Mr Woolas: Well, no, because we
were very successful in the settlement. We were able to get a
larger settlement than even the ABI had asked for before last
summer's floods. In that sense, the money for implementing the
Pitt recommendations is money that has not, therefore, been passed
on to the Environment Agency and others.
Chairman: We will come back to that.
I do not want to anticipate looking at
Q1001 Lynne Jones:
Can you remember what the most expensive item in the Pitt recommendations
Mr Hurst: Bear in mind we do not
know what Sir Michael Pitt's recommendations are yet. We know
what the 15 urgent ones are and we have 72 interim recommendations
that he will firm up for better or worse in the summer.
We understand that, Mr Hurst, but the question was very specific
about how the £34.5 million of redeployed money is going
to be spread out across the 15 priority issues. Lynne Jones was
asking a very specific question: out of those 15 priority areas,
what is going to get the most resource?
Mr Hurst: I think what I am saying,
with my apologies, is that the 34.5 million is not for the 15
priority issues, it is for the totality of what Sir Michael Pitt
concludes in his final report, of which those 15 issues
Let us ask a more straightforward question. What is it going to
be spent on?
Mr Hurst: The answer is that we
do not know yet.
So you make an announcement of spending 34.5 million, with Sir
Michael Pitt you sit down and cost this sum of money but you do
not know what it is going to be spent on. This is a rather unusual
way of allocating public funds.
Mr Woolas: We have not spent it
This is not fantasy money for a fantasy programme, is it?
Mr Woolas: The decision that was
taken was looked at the other way round: if we had not set aside
money for a report that we are taking very seriously and during
the course of the financial year we would have had to
Minister, with respect, Mr Hurst was very straightforward. He
said that you had not costed out everything because clearly Sir
Michael has not come to his firm and final conclusions, and that
is fair enough. He produced a list of some 70-odd interim conclusions
which initially had no money, it was a menu without prices, and
then your Secretary of State announced that 34.5 million has been
allocated towards helping the implementation of Pitt and you said
that as a Department, in concert with Pitt, you had sat down and
costed out something which came to 34.5 million. All I am asking
is what is it that adds up to 34.5 million?
Mr Woolas: Chairman, Martin did
not use the word "costed" in that regard.
I asked him the question who costed Pitt and he said it was a
combination of your Department and Sir Michael Pitt. Mr Hurst,
is that not what you said?
Mr Woolas: Yes, it is what Martin
said, Chairman, but the implication was that it was a detailed
budget that had been worked out.
He said it without moving his lips!
Mr Woolas: Let me just put it
into context for you because obviously the question you are asking
is an extremely fair question. We have a budget of £62.5
million, of which £34.5 million that we are talking about
for the Pitt Review is retained to fund a range of work around
helping communities adapt to flood and coastal erosion impact
and the measures that flow from that. How that money will be allocated
is not yet determined, but the decision was taken that it would
be sensible planning at this stage before the beginning of the
financial year to allocate money to flow from Pitt's recommendations
specifically. If we do not need that money it will go into the
mainstream budget of the 1.8 billion. My view was if we did not
have some money set aside and if people asked the question, "You
have accepted Pitt, how are you going to pay for it?" and
I had to say to you, "I am sorry but I am taking money off
your constituents' flood defence funds", then I think you
would perhaps have had a different point of view.
Chairman: That is very interesting, Minister,
because although I was not going to go into the funding, let us
just tiptoe into
Lynne Jones: You could hardly be taking
it out of the additional monies.
Lynne, just a second. By all means ask a question. I have got
in front of me the breakdown that the Secretary of State issued
in terms of your budget and the 62.5 million is in the column,
as you rightly say, "Retained for now in Defra". So
you have now spent, if you like, 34.5 million of it but the profiling
of that money shows that none of it, bar four million, is going
to be spent until 2009-10. If this is supposed to be the commencement
of the implementation of Pitt and the 34.5 is just slightly over
half the 62.5 that you have retained, I conclude from that, if
the profiling is correct, the best we are going to see in 2008-09
is two million spent on implementation of Pitt.
Mr Woolas: No, that would not
be the correct interpretation.
That is how much it is. That is what your press notice says, I
have it in front of me.
Mr Woolas: That is in relation
to the money specifically for the Pitt recommendations that is
taken from that 1.8 billion.
Sorry, Minister, you said you kept back £62.5 million
Mr Woolas: No, I did not.
--- to help communities adapt.
Mr Woolas: No, I did not say I
had kept back. I said I had kept back 34.5 million from the 1.8
Out of the 62.5.
Mr Woolas: Out of the 62.5 budget
that is from Defra's core budget.
In the second column of figures in the press release it says,
"Retained for now in Defra". I presume that is where
this money has come from. Are we agreed on that?
Mr Woolas: Yes.
If you have used 34.5 of that to kick off the Pitt process, is
that the correct number?
Mr Woolas: Yes.
The profiling of that goes 2008-09 four million, 2009-10 20.5
million and 38 million in 2010-11. I am assuming that this profile
of expenditure was informed by the way that you are going to use
34.5 million of it because that is just over half of this money.
On that basis I surely cannot be wrong that, if you like, Pitt
implementation does not kick in until 2009-10.
Mr Woolas: The profiling of that
schedule over the CSR period reflects the fact that most of the
work that we expect will be done will have a time lag on it.
That is why I was asking what is it going to be spent on and what
is the timescale. It sounds like things are going to happen instantaneously
but not according to this.
Mr Woolas: The timetable that
Sir Michael is working towards, as I am sure the Committee knows,
is to produce the final report in June/July of this calendar year,
which is obviously during the next financial year. That is the
first point. So it is reasonable to assume that the bulk of the
expenditure will be in the next financial year. What I want to
emphasise, Chairman, is the money that is available for the Pitt
recommendations, should we require earlier money, money from core
Defra budgets, would be available. My intention with this was
simply prudent planning to ensure we had a pot of money to implement
Sir Michael's report, but it is not necessarily the only sum of
Q1018 David Taylor:
I wonder whether we can turn to surface water drainage. In your
introductory remarks you focused on assessing the infrastructure,
the existing assets of the system, if you like, overland drainage,
underground drainage, what state they were in, what needed to
be done and how much investment was needed. This area is quite
messy, is it not, quite muddy you might say, because you have
got a patchwork existence of Internal Drainage Boards, you have
got the historical riparian responsibilities, and you have got
privatisation of the industry not all that long ago. The blend
of those three factors means that the current situation in terms
of responsibility is both physically difficult to define, and
Water UK said it is sometimes very hard to know when a highway
drain becomes a public sewer, and it is also organisationally
muddled. This Committee went to Lincoln and heard from local residents,
and this would be true in almost city or area, that they did not
know who was responsible for maintaining particular parts of the
overall drainage system. Pitt responds to that by saying a local
register should be compiled with condition assessment and so on
and details of responsible owners and that is a vital first step.
Do you accept that? That was interim conclusion 21. Is that something
the Department has taken on board?
Mr Woolas: It is something I have
taken on board, yes. My view is exactly the same as yours, that
there is a complicated picture. I did the same as the Committee
in a number of areas of the country, particularly learning lessons
in Hull and East Yorkshire, to look at the pattern and answer
the question whose job is it to ensure that this is fit for purpose,
so the ensuring of the mapping, the co-ordination of the plan
to bring up to speed, if that is what is needed,
Q1019 David Taylor:
And the legal responsibility?
Mr Woolas: --- and the legal responsibility
for those processes is part of our responsibility and something
we are taking on board.