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Half of flood defence systems maintained at ‘minimal level’ - NAO

Half of Britain’s flood defence systems are being maintained at a “minimal level” and are like to “deteriorate faster” due to government budget cuts, according to a new report from the National Audit Office.

The NAO said that spending on flood prevention is “insufficient” and has been cut by 10% in real terms over the course of this government when one off emergency funding is excluded.

The Environment Agency, which maintains flood defences has improved the cost effectiveness of its flood risk spending, but the NAO report said it faced "difficult decisions around whether to continue maintaining some flood defences" or whether to let them "lapse".

Flooding devastated large parts of England after record rainfall last winter and David Cameron delivered £270m of emergency funding, claiming his government was now spending more than ever before.

This funding included an additional £35m for asset maintenance in both 2014-15 and 2015-16, but according to the NAO, in cash terms, this has only restored maintenance funding to 2010-11 levels. However, this represents a real terms decrease of 6% between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

As a result to these financial pressures five million homes in England are at risk of flooding this winter. The government’s own assessment shows climate change is increasing the risk by driving more extreme weather.

According to the NAO report, published on Wednesday, every £1 spent on flood defences prevented almost £10 in damage. The report noted: “Ad-hoc emergency spending is less good value than sustained maintenance.”

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Against a background of tight resources, the Agency has improved how it prioritizes its spending, including on the maintenance of flood defences. On this measure the Agency is achieving value for money. However, if we set aside the emergency spending in response to last year’s floods, and give due credit for efficiency improvements, the underlying spending on flood defences has gone down. The Agency, as it recognizes, will need to make difficult decisions about whether to continue maintaining assets in some areas or let them lapse, increasing in future both the risk of floods and the potential need for more expensive ad hoc emergency solutions. The achievement of value for money in the long term remains significantly uncertain.”

The report also found that 86% of local authorities had failed to publish their flood risk strategies despite being required to do so by ministers since 2011.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said: "I am deeply concerned that current levels of spending are not enough to maintain flood protection, with five million homes at risk of flooding and people's livelihoods in jeopardy."

She added that the cuts by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were “alarming” and described the extra £270m as an “emergency bailout”.

Flooding minister Dan Rogerson MP said the NAO had drawn the wrong conclusion based on the wrong numbers.

“The NAO has drawn conclusions on funding based on inappropriate comparisons. We have invested £3.2bn in flood management and defences over the course of this parliament which is a real term increase and half a billion more than in the previous Parliament. This has allowed us to protect 165,000 families and households in vulnerable areas,” he said.

‪“Not only are we spending more than ever before, but we are also ensuring that our investment strategy will deliver long-term value for money. Next month, we will set out the first ever 6-year programme with record levels of investment, which will protect another 300,000 homes by the end of the decade."

(Image: c. Andrew Matthews and PA Wire)

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