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Flood and Water Management Bill

Flood and Water Management Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, † Mr. Eric Martlew
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)
Morden, Jessica (Newport, East) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Smith, Chloe (Norwich, North) (Con)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 14 January 2010


[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Flood and Water Management Bill

Clause 9

Local flood risk management strategies: England
Amendment proposed (this day): 29, in clause 9, page 7, line 16, at end insert—
‘(10) The Minister shall as soon as possible instigate, publish and have regard to a review undertaken by a panel of independent persons pertaining to the costs which will be incurred by local authorities in implementing the provisions of this Clause before the Clause is commenced.’.—(Miss McIntosh.)
1 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking amendment 113, in clause 9, page 7, line 16, at end add—
‘(10) The Secretary of State shall as soon as possible instigate, publish and have regard to a review undertaken by a panel of independent persons, including representatives from local authorities, universities, professional institutions and other bodies as the Secretary of State deems appropriate, pertaining to the training that will be required for the lead local flood authorities to undertake the functions conferred under this section before this section is commenced.’.
I hope that we will be able to make some progress this afternoon. It is a long Bill, and we are time-limited, of course.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): It is great to serve under your stewardship again this afternoon, Mr. Martlew. I was in the middle of responding to the amendments, and I was making it clear that we would fully fund the local authority’s role in respect not only of the diversity of training needs and so on, but of any new duties, powers and responsibilities that emanate from the Bill.
We have carefully assessed the new burdens that we are placing on local authorities, and we have committed to providing the necessary funding in full. We have said that, from commencement, we will provide an extra £36 million a year to lead flood authorities as area-based grants to fund the new role in England. That will allow local authority-led flood management activity to triple from around £18 million to £54 million a year. In addition, a contingency sum of £8 million has been set aside for year 1.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Martlew. The Minister’s clarification was helpful, but I am a little concerned that the Government are relying on raising local levies. He seems to miss the point that that money will come from exactly the same people whom he was talking about, and district councils, internal drainage boards and the Environment Agency, not the Government, will get the blame. Does he take that point?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Indeed, I do; the point is well made. That is why we need to keep the matter under review. We cannot base our decisions on a snapshot taken now, on the independent review that was carried out last summer, on evidence from 2002 or whatever. We need to keep working with local government, to make this work over time.
It is worth pointing out, by the way, that some of the functions in the Bill will not kick in straight away. There is a time scale in respect of the implications for the transfer of local sewers and the roll-out of sustainable drainage systems development. That will be done development by development, not all on day one. Indeed, there may be cost savings at the front end, rather than increased costs. That is why we need to keep the matter under review.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I do not think that at this point we can set figures for how much money will be available. We do not have national strategies, or strategies for England or Wales. Can the Minister explain literally how this will work? Will a lead local flood authority prepare a strategy and then go to the Government and say, “This is likely to cost £8 million. Can we have £8 million, please?” I am not quite sure how it will physically work.
Huw Irranca-Davies: There will be no need for that. The funding that I have described will be provided on the current area-based grant system. If there were a call for more funding and the evidence supported such a call, funding would be made available through the normal support mechanisms to local authorities in those areas identified as being at the greatest risk of flooding and so on; but of course, our investment, which has doubled in recent years, would continue.
To clarify a point made by the hon. Member for Vale of York, local levies will not be used to fund the core elements of the Bill. We are providing additional Government money to recognise the net burdens, and we will keep it under review.
The assessment of burdens is based on independent research carried out last summer, when the draft Bill was published and consulted on. Just to make it clear, the assessment takes the upper end of the likely costs, because we are cognisant of the concerns that were raised by local government. We went not for the lower end but for the upper end, to provide added confidence.
We have shown a commitment by providing funding this year and next to more than half of all the county and unitary authorities in England, where the need is greatest, to implement Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations and take action straight away. As this is a devolved matter, the responsibility for commissioning such a review in Wales—were it to come—would rest with the Welsh Assembly Government. Welsh Ministers are already discussing the impact with the local authorities and with the Welsh Local Government Association.
The funding will be provided up front. This will not be a drag-down of funding; the area-based grants that I mentioned—£36 million—will be provided up front to fund the roles. If local authorities require more, we will consider it, but we will need good evidence to back up such a request. That is the dialogue that we are currently having with the LGA.
We all want to see the Bill in place, so we must not put hurdles in the way of the commencement of this legislation; that, however, is what these amendments would do. The best way of determining whether authorities are sufficiently funded is to provide money now—as we are already doing and as we promised to do—and allow them to get on with the job. We have already committed to monitoring the actual costs, not the estimates, and we will make good any shortfalls that arise.
The hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Brecon and Radnorshire—please pass on my best wishes to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who is ill today—have tabled a further amendment that requires the Secretary of State to instigate, publish and have regard to a review undertaken by a panel of independent persons about the training that will be required.
To pick up on the point raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I met with Unison and the Sector Skills Body Forum only last week to discuss the ways forward and work force planning within not only local authorities but the water sector generally. We will be in a position to introduce some plans and suggestions, but they are not all pertinent to this clause or this Bill.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Some facts and figures on the matter would be quite useful. Although it is not necessarily the responsibility of this Bill, knowing how many water engineers work in local authorities would form a good backcloth to this legislation. What is the potential shortfall and what is the age profile of those people? As I said in my speech, we need to have a clear background to whatever we pass in legislation. So, if the Minister would bring forward such facts and figures, it would be very useful.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I might be able to be of some help to my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] I have just realised that I am dropping my “h”s; I am suddenly talking a form of estuary Welsh—“I might be of some ’elp to my hon. Friend.” My parents did not bring me up to drop my “h”s in Parliament.
Our assessment is based on independent work by consultants. On average, it suggests that 0.5 to 1.5 extra staff per authority will be needed for the lead flood authority role, plus a similar number more to look after the SUDS element—as I mentioned, the SUDS element will not happen overnight. The costs of those involved in SUDS can be recovered through planning fees, which we have not discussed, so they do not need to be funded.
To allow some contingency, however, the assessment of burdens assumes an average of 2.25 extra full-time employees per lead flood authority. Let me drill under that average. As we know, some large county authorities with significant risks may need to recruit four or five staff, while some unitaries, which already have strong, ongoing drainage and watercourse roles, might be able to perform the role with very few extra resources. We need to keep the issue under review, but we are funding it. We are also funding training and investment in it, by helping with graduate schemes and skills schemes in local authorities. I am sure that I can expand more on that as well.
Mr. Drew: I do not want to labour this point, but in my experience of talking to local government officers, particularly those who have a water engineering background, they do not totally understand what SUDS are.
I have no technical expertise, and this is an evolving area. The Minister talks about using the planning system, but developers will realise that this will be an expensive part of a future planning proposal and do their utmost not to spend that money. I want to know whether we are talking to the building industry, particularly developers, about its understanding of the changes.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I am pleased to say that such a discussion is already under way; we are not waiting for the commencement of the Bill to start on that. We are talking to the building industry, the local authorities and others, because the change will involve, for many, a new skill set. Alongside other Government Departments, we are developing the technical details of the SUDS development and the hierarchy that it will mean. There will be different types of SUDS development. On the back of that, we have identified the skill sets that are required. There is a job of work to be done, but we have not waited to start it; it is already under way.
The amendments suggest that a training review by an independent panel will have to take place before the training of the lead local authorities can commence. That cannot happen; we need to get on with the Bill. The work is under way already. Although I wholeheartedly agree that there is a need to ensure that the lead local flood authorities have the capacity to undertake their role, requiring any sort of review before commencement would be unduly bureaucratic and could have the unfortunate effect of delaying the management of flood risk. That would affect people who could otherwise be helped.
Let me return to the matter raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Selby and for City of Durham. The suggestion was challenging because it is to do with net burdens, finance, costs and so on. They suggested putting on a formal footing the discussions that we are currently having with the LGA as a prime partner. I am quite taken with the idea, because we are currently having intense dialogues with the LGA, as we have done through the development of this Bill, the draft Bill and so on. Formalising such talks would be a good way to take the whole matter forward. Rather than have an independent panel, it would be better to send Ministers away to put the talks on a proper footing and say, “You will now have to plan your way through this with the LGA.”
This process will not be over in 12 months, or even two years. The development of SUDS and the transfer of private sewers will mean that we will still be here in a few years. We therefore need to put our discussions on a formal footing. I have no problem with doing that in some kind of partnership with the LGA, and possibly others such as the Environment Agency and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
However, we do not need to legislate to do that, and we do not want to delay the commencement of the Bill. This afternoon, my officials are meeting the LGA. They have a range of issues on their agenda, and I am quite happy for them to raise the idea of formalising the arrangements there, so that we take forward an ongoing assessment of the costs and burdens as they arise. On the back of that, depending on what discussions arise, I am happy to write to members of the Committee and the LGA to put things on a formal footing. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the Committee.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): That is a helpful response and I thank the Minister. Will he confirm that if this partnership is put on a more formal basis, it will consider matters of training and skills, as well as financial burdens?
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