6.The Climate Change Committee has listed flooding and coastal change as one of the greatest climate change risks for the UK, with risks arising due to increases in heavy rainfall, river flows, sea level rise and a corresponding increase in the height of tidal surges, and an increased rate of coastal erosion along vulnerable coastlines. Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association told us that “the scale of the challenge offered by the climate science” includes “1.6 metres of sea level rise by 2125 in 100 years’ time—half a metre roughly halfway through that process—100% increases in river flows or 40% increases in rainfall intensity”. The increase in risk depends, in part, on the level of global warming, with the Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee recommending “planning for 2°C and considering plans for 4°C”. The CCC said in 2016 that “warming of 4°C or more implies inevitable increases in flood risk across all UK regions even in the most ambitious adaptation scenarios considered”.
7.The Government stated that its flooding and coastal erosion policy statement, published in July 2020, “forms part of the government’s wider commitment to tackle climate change”. It places an emphasis on “resilience”, consisting of actions to both “better protect” against, and “better prepare” for, the risk of flooding. The new Environment Agency national strategy also incorporates the concept of “adaptive pathways”; planning ahead for how flood risk might change in future. This has already been used in the Thames Estuary 2100 plan, which “identifies a series of approaches or options for different climate change, social and economic futures”.
8.Nevertheless, some evidence suggested that the Government’s approach does not go far enough to address future increases in flood and coastal risk due to climate change. Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) told us that the scale of the challenge is “not reflected” in the policy statement and strategy, and a “break point difference” rather than “incremental” response is required. The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) said that, while flooding was among the highest risks identified by the Climate Change Committee, the Government’s National Adaptation Programme is “currently not an overarching framework driving adaptation and resilience across the economy, as it should be”. They continued that the Government’s priority on flood risk policy should be to “ensure that it is not regarded by many departments as Defra or the Environment Agency’s problem”, but rather that “all should take ownership of understanding flood risk in their areas of responsibility”.
9.We make recommendations around factoring the impacts of climate change into Government flooding policy and funding in the next section.
10.The main central Government vehicle for directly funding flood schemes is the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) programme managed by the Environment Agency. This includes a multi-year capital budget from which local schemes can be funded, £2.6bn for the current six-year programme (2015–21), and funding for schemes can be supplemented by partnership funding from local sources (public and private). The March 2020 Budget announced that capital investment in the next six-year programme (2021–27) would double to £5.2 billion. Funding of £200 million was also announced for “innovative projects”, and “up to £170 million” was later committed to “accelerate work on shovel-ready schemes”. The EA also has a FCERM resource budget, including funding for routine maintenance.
11.The doubling of capital investment itself falls below the long-term annual average investment of £1 billion, identified as the “overall economic optimum” by the Environment Agency’s 2019 Long Term Investment Scenarios. Defra believes that revenue funding and other sources of funding will result in levels exceeding the EA’s 2019 estimate. The National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) Chief Economist James Richardson told us that £5.2 billion “puts Government on a trajectory to meet the levels of investment that would be needed in a [2°C] climate change world”, although he stressed the long-term challenge as “it is certainly not one six-year period and you are done”. He also noted that 4°C warming would necessitate “significantly higher funding”, although the Government’s approach of planning for 2°C and “considering how you would then adapt those investments and how you could enhance them in future if things turn out worse” was correct. Flood Re (a reinsurance scheme for household flood cover) stressed that the Government’s investment commitment must “provide more long-term clarity and certainty with funding spanning a rolling 10 or 20 year period”.
12.We welcome the doubling of investment in flood defences announced at Budget 2020, amounting to £5.2 billion over the next six years. It is vital that measures to address the growing, long-term, flood and coastal risk in the face of climate change are adequately resourced. The Government should therefore keep the level of investment under constant review, with reference to the Environment Agency’s long-term investment scenarios. The Government should commit to ensuring that funding for flood and coastal erosion risk management will keep pace with climate science and modelling of flood and coastal risk, both during the 2021–27 programme and beyond.
13.The formula used to allocate Grant-in-Aid from the FCERM budget to particular schemes has also been criticised over the years. The Local Government Association (LGA) told us that under the existing model “smaller, more rural and dispersed areas are unable to compete for funding”, while catchments characterised by “industry, commerce and critical infrastructure, yet with little residential accommodation” would also only secure “very low levels of national funding contributions”. The National Flood Forum also said that the cost-benefit approach means “there are many places, both rural and urban, which will never score highly enough”.
14.Evidence suggests that the existing formula also fails to take into account the wider benefits of flood risk investment. CIWEM told us that the benefit-cost ratios used for FCERM schemes are “an underestimation of the true benefit to the UK economy, human wellbeing and the protection of nature”. It also noted that “the relocation of communities, infrastructure and loss of housing stock or valuable land is not properly accounted for” in funding decisions on coastal defences, and current appraisal methods limit “our ability to account for the benefits of our coastline to the rest of the nation”. The Wildlife Trusts told us that “it will be important to ensure that climate factors and other public benefits are properly valued in cost benefit assessments”, if the Government’s approach is to ensure that flood risk measures are “climate-smart”.
15.The Government announced changes to the formula in April 2020, including increased payments for schemes protecting properties that will become at risk in future, and enabling schemes that prevent surface water flooding to qualify for more funding. Defra also said that it would launch a public consultation later in 2020, to help “further develop our floods funding vision for the future”. A call for evidence was launched in February 2021, seeking information on “additional ways in which specific local circumstances can be taken account of in the government’s future flood and coastal defence investment programme”. It is due to close on 29 March 2021.
16.We welcome the steps taken thus far to improve the partnership funding formula, to better take account of climate change and the wider impacts of flooding. However, it is disappointing that the Government’s call for evidence on further changes to the formula has only just been launched, and will not close until the eve of the next investment programme starting in April 2021. We believe there is more work to be done to ensure that flood capital investment protects people and property without favouring certain areas or disproportionately focussing on certain types of flooding. When considering cost-benefit analyses, natural capital should also be a factor that is taken into consideration. The Government should ensure that any further steps to address shortcomings of the flood funding formula, following the current call for evidence, are communicated and implemented as quickly as possible.
17.The EA, which will largely be responsible for managing the Government’s £5.2 billion investment, said that “significant” partnership contributions from local authorities and private sources would be needed to deliver its outcomes, and that this will be “challenging”. Our predecessor Committee’s report on Coastal flooding and erosion, and adaptation to climate change in the last Parliament recommended that:
The Government should demonstrate its seriousness about attracting private sector funding and how it will reverse the apparent stalling of private sector contributions under the Partnership Funding model, and how it intends to strengthen the system including the use of tax incentives for private investment.
18.The National Audit Office (NAO) found in November 2020 that partnership funding is “almost all from the public sector”, with the proportion from the private sector in the period 2015–21 being “even lower than when we last reported in 2014”. The LGA’s Councillor David Renard told us that there is “not enough incentivisation for private companies, particularly utilities, to make those investments in the local area”.
19.In terms of the effectiveness of the partnership model, the Government response to our predecessor Committee’s report stated that an evaluation of partnership funding, published in 2018, showed that an additional 421 schemes had been funded (than would have been the case if they were fully funded by Government). However, the NAO highlighted that the partnership model may lead to projects that cannot secure partnership funding not proceeding, despite offering better value for money than others which do secure contributions. They also pointed to “big regional differences” in the amount of partnership funding committed, but noted that it is not possible to ascertain whether these variations are a result of difficulties in obtaining contributions for some schemes, because the Environment Agency does not keep a record of schemes where partnership funding cannot be secured.
20.The Government’s flooding policy statement in July committed to “review current guidance on corporation tax relief on partnership funding contributions [ … ] to ensure it provides clarity on the scope and availability of the relief”. Defra also intends to expand and promote the use of local powers through which local authorities can secure additional funding, while the Environment Agency plans to introduce training to help local staff secure additional partnership funding from the private sector.
21.David Cooper (Deputy Director, Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management at Defra) told us in oral evidence that “we estimate a need for about £430 million in contributions in the future programme compared to the £530 million we have in the current one”. The Secretary of State also told us that it is open to the Government to “look at” cases where “we felt we needed to move certain projects forward and there was a shortage of partnership funding”.
22.We share the concern of our predecessor Committee about the apparent stalling of private sector contributions under the partnership funding model. The recent National Audit Office report shows the Government faces an uphill struggle to reverse the decline in private sector contributions. We welcome the steps the Government is taking to encourage more private contributions, including reviewing guidance on corporation tax relief. However, we note with concern that the Environment Agency has said it will be challenging to secure the partnership funding needed to deliver the outcomes of the next multi-year capital investment.
23.While we acknowledge the great value of partnership contributions from public sources, it is obvious that private sector investment is too low (as the Government has implicitly accepted), and this could contribute to uncertainty about whether schemes will be deliverable. The Government should explain how it will monitor whether the level of partnership funding, including private sector contributions, is jeopardising the outcomes of the multi-year capital investment programme.
24.The Environment Agency should facilitate this by keeping a record of schemes that are unable to proceed due to being unable to secure adequate partnership contributions, including a quantification of the losses in flood resilience that result.
25.Alongside capital investment, another ongoing issue is the budget for maintenance of flood risk assets. Paul Cobbing of the National Flood Forum told us that the capital investment would be “pointless” if the Government did not ensure “the revenue spend that is required to maintain the assets we have already”. The NFU told us that “thousands of acres of agricultural land” were flooded in the summer and autumn of 2019 due to breaches in flood embankments, highlighting a lack of investment in maintenance.
26.The NAO found that the EA had only met its target on the number of properties at risk due to the condition of its own structures and defences in 2 of the last 6 years. The number at risk increased by 171% in 2019/20 to 189,000 owing to the damage caused by the winter floods. The NAO also referred to EA research indicating that maintenance and repair costs could increase by between 20% and 70% a year up to 2050, as a result of climate change.
27.In its evidence, the EA highlighted that higher levels of capital investment would put more pressure on revenue funds, and called for a long-term revenue budget settlement:
Due to the increased frequency and severity of flood incidents, our operational costs are rising. We continue to make the case for funding the operation and maintenance of Environment Agency maintained FCERM assets in the new spending review. This includes a long term revenue settlement aligned to the capital investment announced in the Budget. Over time, the higher levels of capital investment will also generate further pressure on our revenue funds.
In oral evidence, the EA’s Executive Director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management John Curtin also noted that climate change placed stress on flood assets in other ways, such as hot summers causing compaction in earth banks. Mr Curtin reiterated that “we need to make a really strong case and need Government support on our maintenance”. He also stressed that it is not just a matter of funding for the Environment Agency, and that “we need a collective view of the overall investment in the Environment Agency, local authorities and IDBs [Internal Drainage Boards]”.
28.Budget 2020 allocated an extra £120m to repair flood defences damaged in the flooding of winter 2019–20. The Government told us in January 2021 that “any flood defences and equipment damaged during last winter’s flooding are now repaired or have robust contingency plans in place to provide the expected standard of protection to communities this winter”. However, the Spending Review in November contained no commitment to a long-term revenue settlement for flood and coastal erosion risk management. Following his appearance, the Secretary of State wrote to us on the subject of maintenance funding. He said:
The Government is committed to the ongoing maintenance of our existing flood defences, alongside the delivery of its £5.2 billion capital investment programme over the next six years. Further details of this will be confirmed soon once Defra has concluded its budget setting process for 2021/22. I will write again in early 2021 once final spending allocations have been settled.
29.It is critical that the considerable outlay of public money through the Government’s £5.2 billion capital investment in flood defences is not wasted through a failure to adequately resource the maintenance of new and existing assets. We are concerned by the evidence we have received about existing shortcomings in asset maintenance, and this situation will only be exacerbated by the twin pressures of climate change and increased capital funding if the Government does not act. We recognise the Government’s stated commitment to ongoing maintenance, but a step change is needed. The Government should put in place a long-term resource budget settlement for flood and coastal erosion risk management, that is aligned with the increased multi-year capital investment programme, so that the Environment Agency and others are able to effectively plan and maintain the network of flood and coastal risk assets.
30.While the Government has set out its investment plans, we have heard evidence that there is an absence of a clear long-term objective for flood resilience. Professor Richard Dawson, of the Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee, argued that “we do need to set a long-term outcome for what we want to achieve with flood risk management”. The Adaptation Committee’s written evidence recommended that the Government set “a long-term, quantitative, evidence based outcome for flood risk management”, with metrics of vulnerabilities and benefits in the context of climate change. Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association told us that the UK should have an “endpoint resilience vision” over the next 100 years, and said that the Netherlands are an example of this long-term planning. The National Flood Forum’s Paul Cobbing said that “it is only when we have a clear level of ambition that we are then able to measure progress against it”.
31.One suggestion has been a “national standard for flood resilience”, as recommended to us by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). The NIC had previously recommended, in its 2018 National Infrastructure Assessment, that “a national standard should be set for resilience to flooding with an annual likelihood of [0.5%] by 2050, where feasible”. It proposed that a higher standard (resilience to flooding with a 0.1% annual probability) should be set for “densely populated areas, where the consequences of flooding are potentially much more serious”. NIC Chief Economist James Richardson told us that the Commission’s other work had discussed resilience “in terms of preparing, resisting, absorbing, recovering and then adapting or transforming”. He said that a standard of resilience to flooding would provide “a strategic aim in order to be able to identify the optimum mix of interventions”, while it would also address limitations of the existing cost-benefit approach to allocating funding.
32.We heard some support for resilience standards in other evidence. The Wildlife Trusts told us that “such standards could give certainty to communities at risk of flooding or coastal change”, and would also provide greater certainty to developers and businesses about where to target investment. The Association of Drainage Authorities also supported the setting of a “nationwide objective” for resilience “wherever feasible”, although it urged that a move toward resilience should not “come at the expense of reducing standards of defence or as an excuse not to maintain systems and assets in certain areas”. Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan told us that, while “a common standard for the level of protection that each individual flood defence scheme provides” would be “unwieldy”, pursuing a resilience standard for a “place” is an “important and interesting subject that is worth discussing”.
33.Nevertheless, in its July 2020 policy statement, the Government decided not to pursue a national standard, arguing in a letter to the NIC Chair Sir John Armitt that there is no agreed understanding of resilience, and that a national standard would inevitably be a “lowest common denominator”. Mr Richardson said he was “puzzled” by the argument about a “lowest common denominator”, noting that deciding on a standard is a “political choice” and that the standard proposed by the NIC was “considerably above the standard of resilience in many parts of the country today”.
34.When we asked the Secretary of State about the Government’s national ambition for flood resilience, he replied that the ambition is set out in the policy statement and the Environment Agency’s national strategy. He continued to defend the decision not to set a national resilience standard, suggesting that it could have resulted in “lots of reports that try to define and codify things in words without actually getting on and doing the job”. The Secretary of State said that “what people want from the Environment Agency and from Government is to crack on with this £5.2 billion capital budget”.
35.The Government’s refusal to set a national standard for resilience to flooding means there is uncertainty about the level of its ambition. We would expect the Government to show leadership in the face of severe and growing risk by setting out its long-term objective. We are not convinced by the Government’s rationale for rejecting the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation of a nationwide standard for flood resilience. Such a standard could address limitations of cost-benefit approaches to allocating funding, and would improve public confidence in the Government’s approach to creating a country better protected and better prepared for flooding. The Government believes that national standards would be a “lowest common denominator”, but it is surely right for the Government to take a political decision on what its policies are meant to achieve. The Government should clearly set out the level of resilience that its interventions, including future capital investment and the actions in its July 2020 policy statement, are intended to deliver in the long term. This should be aligned to climate projections, and should include qualitative and quantitative objectives for what a nation resilient to flooding looks like. The Government should seriously re-examine the case for expressing this as a national standard for flood resilience, as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission.
36.Climate change poses a grave threat to the flood resilience of communities, with the Climate Change Committee warning that warming of 4°C or more implies inevitable increases in flood risk even in the most ambitious adaptation scenarios considered. The Government needs to be frank about the level of risk it is prepared to accept in extreme climate change scenarios, and those likely to be affected need to know now. The Government should explain how a reasonable worst-case scenario for increased flood and coastal risk due to climate change would impact upon its national objective for flood resilience, and what this would mean for funding and decisions about whether to protect any given place.
37.Instead of resilience standards, the Government has said it will take an “alternative approach” that is “focused on a similar vision”. The July 2020 policy statement sets out the following actions to “drive forward progress and monitor trends”:
38.However, the National Audit Office (NAO) pointed out that neither the policy statement nor the strategy “quantifies the level of resilience or risk reduction the Government expects to achieve”. On the multi-year capital investment programme, the NAO also concluded that the Environment Agency’s metric of “homes better protected” fails to take account of other types of property, as well as homes whose risk increases due to other factors. The previous EFRA Committee’s interim report on Coastal flooding and erosion, and adaptation to climate change, also received evidence suggesting that Government coastal change policy has too narrow a focus on protecting residential properties, and recommended that this be reconsidered. For the next six-year capital programme, the Government has talked in terms of “homes and non-residential properties” better protected. The EA estimates that increased investment over the period 2021–2027 will better protect 336,000 properties and reduce flood risk by “up to 11%”, but the NAO noted that the EA “has no plans to monitor its progress toward this”.
39.We welcome the focus on protecting not just homes, but also other properties. It is crucial that the success or otherwise of flood risk management interventions is closely monitored, in order to demonstrate progress toward strategic objectives and ensure value for money. We are particularly concerned that the Environment Agency has no plans to monitor progress on the number of properties that will be better protected in the next capital investment programme. The Government should provide further detail on its intentions for a “national set of indicators”, including how they will monitor progress toward a defined objective for flood resilience, and address shortcomings of the “homes/properties better protected” metric.
40.There is a range of flood risk management authorities (RMAs). Table 1 shows the RMAs which manage the risk of flooding from various sources. Furthermore, the Environment Agency produces a national Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy, and Lead Local Flood Authorities (unitary and county councils) prepare Local Flood Risk Management Strategies.
Risk management authorities
Types of flood risk managed
Main rivers, sea, reservoirs
Lead local flood authority (LLFA), i.e. unitary or county council
Surface water, groundwater, ordinary watercourses
Ordinary watercourses, sea
Internal Drainage Board (IDB)
Ordinary watercourses, sea, main rivers
Water and sewerage companies
Flooding from surface water and foul or combined sewer systems
Highway drainage and roadside ditches
41.A lack of strategic co-ordination among the various bodies and plans has been highlighted. Professor Richard Dawson, of the Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee, told us that “there are lots of organisations, plans and strategies”, covering different spatial areas, sectors and timeframes. The National Flood Forum stressed the “absence of strategic coordination on flood risk management across sectors in most places”. The Association of Drainage Authorities said that England has “a well-developed system of governance arrangements” but that aspects of flood risk management are “overly centralised, require greater resources, especially at a local level, and need to strengthen cooperative working”.
42.In its July 2020 policy statement, the Government committed to “reform local flood and coastal erosion risk planning so that every area of England will have a more strategic and comprehensive plan that drives long-term local action and investment”, by 2026. While the Adaptation Committee’s Professor Richard Dawson welcomed the “integrated approach” emphasised by the policy statement and strategy, he noted that “we still find we are lacking that overarching strategy and clear outcome, direction of travel and ambition”. Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association also said that “there is no clear line of sight on delivery from national Government through to local government” to implement the policy statement and Environment Agency strategy, leaving England “critically unprepared for the medium and long-term challenge of climate change”.
43.We heard a number of suggestions as to how the various bodies involved in managing flood risk could better co-ordinate their approaches in the face of climate change, such as a “climate emergency framework”, recommended by the Local Government Association (LGA), or “Adaptation Strategies” across catchments and along the coast, recommended by the National Trust. The National Trust also highlighted that Catchment Partnerships could “play a greater role in helping to engage communities with flood risk management”. There is also some evidence that the approach being taken on the coast is more effective and may hold valuable lessons for inland catchments. The National Trust told us that Shoreline Management Plan Coastal Groups are an example of where the majority of stakeholders “increasingly recognise the need to embrace adaptive approaches to flood management”.
44.The Government must provide leadership to ensure that the division of flood risk responsibilities among various organisations does not result in local communities experiencing a less efficient and responsive approach to flood risk management than if all responsibilities were brought under one roof. We cautiously welcome the Government’s commitment to reform flood risk planning, but it must effectively address the concerns we have heard about lack of integration, and not simply place unnecessary new bureaucracy or burdens on risk management authorities. The Government should provide further detail on its plans to reform local flood risk planning, including which bodies will be expected to lead and co-operate, and how these plans will relate to existing plans and a cross-Government approach to climate adaptation. The Government should draw on best practice from Shoreline Management Plans and Catchment Partnerships in this process. The Government should also ensure that local authorities and other partners receive any additional funding required for this work.
45.As well as risk management authorities, property owners have a key role in ensuring that their own actions do not increase the risk of flooding. Riparian ownership means that owners of land adjacent to watercourses have responsibilities to maintain them. However, there is evidence of a lack of awareness by riparian owners of their responsibilities. The National Flood Forum noted that “people purchasing a property currently have no way of knowing whether they are acquiring riparian responsibilities”, unless a watercourse happens to appear on a publicly available map, and that many people have unwittingly taken on liability for culverts. We also heard that there is a need to identify the right management options for ordinary watercourses such as ditches. The National Trust noted that “regular wholesale clearance” of some watercourses may actually increase flood risk downstream, and stressed that “those with statutory responsibility need support to help them understand and assess the management options available”.
46.Where riparian responsibilities are not discharged, there is evidence that Risk Management Authorities are often unable to enforce them. The National Flood Forum said that enforcement is “in many areas non-existent”, because “the risks to organisations and the resources required to implement enforcement actively prevent action from being taken”. Hampshire County Council told us that legislation often does not give authorities sufficient powers to enforce maintenance works by riparian owners, which leads to the authorities having to undertaken works on their behalf.
47.The July 2020 policy statement said that the Government will “ensure that riparian owners are both clear on their responsibilities and better engaged in the protection of their communities”. It also committed to “a review of the statutory powers and responsibilities to map, monitor, inspect and maintain all assets”, aiming to ensure that responsibilities are clear and that powers to “enable inspection and maintenance” are effective. The Defra-commissioned independent review of responsibility for surface water management, conducted by David Jenkins and published in August 2020, recommended that the Environment Agency’s guidance on Owning a watercourse be promoted more widely, and that Defra consider “what further steps the public interest requires to be taken, to ensure the maintenance of privately owned watercourses and related features”.
48.The responsibility of riparian owners to maintain watercourses so as not to increase flood risk to others is well established in common law. Obviously, individuals must first know whether they are riparian owners, and their responsibilities, if they are to be expected to discharge them. Risk management authorities also need to be properly enabled and resourced to identify and communicate the right management approaches for riparian assets, and enforce maintenance where necessary. The Government’s review of statutory responsibilities for asset maintenance should include reviewing the powers and resources of risk management authorities to communicate appropriate riparian management options, and effectively enforce responsibilities by riparian owners.
49.Local authorities have various roles in relation to flood risk management. Lead Local Flood Authorities (county and unitary councils) are responsible for preparing local flood risk management strategies and plans. Local strategies must be consistent with the national strategy prepared by the Environment Agency. In addition to this strategic role, local authorities (whether district, county or unitary) are variously responsible for managing the risk of flooding from surface runoff, groundwater and ordinary watercourses, as well as coastal erosion. District and unitary councils are also local planning authorities, and we look in more detail at development and flood risk in Chapter 3.
50.The evidence shows that resourcing and capacity are key for ensuring that local flood risk management is coherent. Specific issues that have been highlighted include inadequate resources to carry out “Section 19” investigations following a flood, as well as insufficient powers to enforce responsibilities of riparian owners (see above). The Local Government Association told us that local authorities would “welcome clarity” on how the responsibilities of Lead Local Flood Authorities would be funded beyond the 2020–21 financial year. Local authorities can bid for funding for flood defence schemes from the Government’s capital investment programme (see the section on funding above). They also use money from their central Government grant for flood risk management activities, but this is not ringfenced. The Local Government Association told us that grant funding from Defra for Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) runs out at the end of the 2020/21 financial year, and “it is not clear how this critical role will be funded from 2021”. The LGA also noted the pressures on local government finance as a result of covid-19. The National Audit Office report on Managing flood risk in November 2020 found that “Defra does not assess whether funding to local authorities is adequate to cover the level of flood risk individual authorities face”, meaning the Government is “unable to assess whether organisations, such as lead local flood authorities, have the resources they need to manage flood risk effectively”.
51.Experience and expertise of flood risk management also varies between local authorities. Flood risk campaigner Mary Dhonau told us that some local authorities lack a dedicated flood risk team and place LLFA responsibilities on highways or planning officers, which “can lead to being more reactive than proactive due to the restrictions of budgets and resources”. The Caterham Flood Action Group said that “regional variations in LLFA expertise [have] created a flood risk lottery”.
52.When we put the NAO’s findings to the Secretary of State, he responded that “we know what resources [Lead Local Flood Authorities] have and I have had discussions with them”. David Cooper also told us that “it is down to local councils to prioritise their spending”, and that the Government tracks local authority flood expenditure. Nevertheless, the Government’s July 2020 policy statement contains a commitment to “review local government funding for local statutory flood and coastal erosion risk management functions to ensure it is fair and matches the needs and resources of local areas”. The NAO report notes that no date has been set for this review.
53.Local authorities will be a key delivery partner for the Government’s new flooding policies, so we are very concerned by evidence of inconsistency and shortcomings in capacity. While it is for local authorities to take local decisions, central Government must ensure that they are properly resourced to implement their existing functions and the Government’s new flooding policies. We note that the Government has recognised the need to review funding for local government statutory flood risk functions, and it is essential that this review is completed in good time especially given the wider financial pressures local authorities are facing. The Government should set out details on the scope and timescale of its planned review of funding for local government flood risk functions. The Government should ensure that local authorities have dedicated resources to effectively deliver existing flood risk management functions and any new roles, and that their needs are continually monitored to avoid future shortfalls.
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103 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, ‘’ (May 2020), p 10
104 Flood and Water Management Act 2010, ; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environment Agency, , accessed 1 February 2021
105 Flood and Water Management Act 2010,
106 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environment Agency, , accessed 1 February 2021
107 For example Cheshire Mid-Mersey (CMM) Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Partnership (); National Flood Forum (). Section 19 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 provides for LLFAs to carry out investigations following flooding incidents. The investigations cover which RMAs have relevant flood risk management functions, and whether they have been exercised in response to the flood. It is for the LLFA to decide whether a formal investigation is necessary or appropriate. See Flood and Water Management Act 2010,
108 Local Government Association ()
109 Local Government Association ()
110 Local Government Association ()
111 National Audit Office, Managing flood risk, HC (2019–21) , para 9
112 Know your Flood Risk Campaign ()
113 Caterham Flood Action Group ()
116 HM Government, ‘’ (July 2020), p 18
117 National Audit Office, Managing flood risk, HC (2019–21) , para 3.26