Thursday, 31 December 2015

Flood Defences: promises then neglect.


The previous post accused our government of "criminal neglect of the the duties of a government towards its citizens."  The following day the Guardian published an article by Damian Carington  which gives further and better particulars which in my view amply justify this accusation.  In summary:

  • In response to floods in 2007 the Pitt Review recommended that increased funding was needed.  The then Labour government duly hiked up the expenditure;
  • In 2008, in response to floods in his own Oxfordshire constituency, David Cameron, then in opposition, said in parliament  "Most people accept that, with climate change [floods] are likely to become more frequent":
  • So in his first year in power, in 2010/11 the government cut planned expenditure on flood defences by 27%;
  • In January 2012 the government's own research showed that flooding was the greatest threat posed by climate change in England;
  • But by the summer of 2012, when heavy flooding hit again, it was revealed that, following the cuts, 300 flood relief projects, including a £58m scheme for Leeds, had not gone ahead;
  • In May 2013 the government cut the number of officials on the National Adaptation  [to climate change] Programme, whose remit incudes flooding,  from 38 to six;
  • During the floods of 2013/14 advisers told ministers that there was a £500m hole in flood defence plans;
  • And in March 2104 the Meteorological Office warned that extreme rainfall was becoming more  common in the UK;
  • In November 2014 the National Audit Office found that the risk of flooding was rising as a result of the cuts, and that half the nation's flood defences had been left with "minimal " maintenance. (some of the flooding in York happened because machinery that was supposed to prevent the Foss flooding failed because of poor maintenance);
  • In June this year (still 2015) the Committee on Climate Change recommended  the need to "develop a strategy to address the increasing number of homes in areas of high flood risk."  The government's response was that  ". . .a strategy to address future residual risk  would not be appropriate at this time."
How can this be?  We are not (yet) a banana republic.  We have a highly educated electorate, a free press, and all the economic resources necessary to put things right.*

But we have a government obsessed with cutting public expenditure and an ideological reduction in the size of the state, a House of Commons in thrall to the executive and incapable of calling it effectively to account, and a sycophantic press largely concerned only with profits, happy to express outrage as each crisis  happens, then move on to  the next sensation which will sell the latest editions.

This applies, of course, not just to floods and similar national phenomena, but to miscarriages of justice, expenses scandals, election promises blatantly broken, mismanagement of the banking and financial systems, failure of business giants to pay their taxes, protecting the wealthy and demonising the weak.

Comprehensive constitutional reform is needed - but that neither sells papers nor, alas, until now, seems to win votes.  Yet the majority of people must be outraged by this scenario. It is the task of the broad left - Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP - to stop bickering and form the coalition which will wrest our democracy from the hands of slick profiteers and bring it back into the service of all the people.

*  Putting things right is not just a matter of building more and bigger defences, but requires a change in the way we treat the land, as George Monbiot explains yet again.

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