COMMONS

Private sector funds required to bolster flood defences

10 February 2015

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee queries Government plans to attract £600 million from external funders to bolster flood defences. In its report on Defra Performance in 2013-14, the cross-party Committee cites low levels of private funding attracted to date as a cause for concern about ambitious future plans.

Chair's comments

Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP commented:

“The Government has committed £2.3 billion in capital funding for six years’ investment aimed at protecting 300,000 properties, but that plan relies on external contributions of £600 million.

We support the principle that the private sector should help to fund new flood defence schemes, but we have repeatedly expressed concern about the relatively small amounts of private sector funding secured to date under the Partnership Funding approach, with only £40 million of the £148 million secured up to 2014-15 coming from sources beyond local government.

It is unclear how the £600 million target can be met, and we want Defra to demonstrate how it intends to obtain that money and to explain the impact on its investment programme if the money does not come forward.”

The Committee also repeats its call on Government to move to a total expenditure classification for flood risk management and flags that revenue funding would benefit from a six-year funding commitment alongside capital. The Committee believes revenue and capital spending must be balanced to ensure both receive the same priority.

Budget changes

The Committee also criticises Defra for an absence of transparency in its plans to cut its budget in coming years. 

Miss McIntosh said:

“The Department has not identified which specific policies and programmes will be reduced in future years, in spite of repeated requests for clarity.  Defra must be more transparent on where emergency money, such as winter floods response funding, is found.  We also need to know what the impact of cuts will be on policy delivery.”

Policy failings

The Committee identifies several policy delivery failures by Defra, including delayed delivery of biodiversity offsetting proposals and slow progress on creating Marine Conservation Zones; since 127 sites were identified four years ago, only 27 have been designated.

Staff morale

Poor staff morale among Defra’s civil servants is also highlighted. Defra’s staff engagement score improved by 2 percentage points from 2012, but still lags 6 points below the Civil Service Average. The Committee urges senior managers at Defra to commit to taking action to address the disappointing results.

CAP and disallowance penalties

Since the introduction of 2005 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Defra accounts have recognised £580 million worth of disallowance penalties, imposed by the European Commission on the UK Government for making CAP payments inaccurately.

Miss McIntosh said:

“Ensuring accurate CAP payments to farmers must be a priority for the Secretary of State. We have criticised the Department and Rural Payments Agency for the high levels of disallowance penalties incurred under the 2005 CAP and it is worrying that there is still a significant risk of further penalties being incurred. It is absolutely vital that Defra and the RPA use lessons learnt to minimise disallowance risks in future.”

Badger culls

Finally, the Committee asks Defra to confirm whether it will continue badger culling in Gloucestershire after the second year of pilot culling there failed to meet licence conditions for the number of badgers removed.

Further information

Image: PA

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