Flood Risk Management in England - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The current strategy for long-term expenditure on flood protection anticipated a higher level of central government funding than is now likely to be available. Risk of flooding affects some 5.2 million homes and the actual cost of flood damage is £1.1 billion and is set to rise. The Agency assured us that during the current spending review period planned capital expenditure would continue to be achieved through efficiency savings and the improved use of resources. However, it is not yet clear how the money required to maintain and improve flood protection in the longer term will be found. The Agency needs to publish a new long-term strategy reflecting current funding realities in which the assumptions underlying its plans are transparent.

2.  It is unclear whether local contributions will be sufficient to replace funding that has previously been provided nationally. The Department has developed an innovative approach to attracting local funding. However, we are sceptical about how much it can rely on funding from local sources when local authorities are facing their own funding challenges and balancing many pressing needs. In addition, more complex partnerships and funding agreements will mean schemes take longer to put in place and may cost more to develop. The Department needs to support local authorities to bring in local partnership arrangements that are clear, transparent and not overly bureaucratic.

3.  The Department has no way of knowing whether local flood management systems are adequate or when it should intervene. There is no timetable for producing local flood risk management strategies and the Department relies on influencing local authorities through encouragement and guidance. The Department is unable to guarantee that it will receive the information it needs to monitor flood defences effectively and it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for ensuring flood defences are adequate. The Department needs to articulate what information it will rely on to evaluate local risk management strategies and be clear about when and where it will intervene should local plans be inadequate. The public need to know and understand where responsibility and accountability lie.

4.  Local communities need to have confidence in the decisions made on managing flood risk but do not always feel involved in the decision-making process. The Agency needs to engage with communities and other local sources of expertise on preferred solutions, particularly as local communities are being asked to pay more towards flood protection. The Agency should look to improve its consultation processes so they support more meaningful local engagement.

5.  In light of speculation about the levels of funding available to provide effective flood protection, there is uncertainty over the future availability and affordability of insurance cover for properties in risk areas. The existing agreement between the Department and the insurance industry which guarantees availability of insurance ends in 2013. The Department is leaving it late to reach a new agreement and this will lead to uncertainty and worry for affected households and communities. The Government needs to reach an agreement with the insurance industry urgently and work more closely with the industry to ensure insurance cover is both available and affordable.

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Prepared 31 January 2012