08 October 2004
Many local authorities find the Bellwin scheme to defray the costs of natural disasters less than useful, according to research published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
The financial management of local disasters, commissioned by the ODPM in the wake of the floods in autumn 2000, concludes that although Bellwin is 'fit for purpose' as a last resort source of funding, it is poorly understood.
'The impression from those authorities with access to other sources of funding was that these were both more accessible and covered a broader range of costs than under Bellwin,' the report said. Most councils, it added, have no financial planning regime for emergencies.
The Local Government Association has long campaigned for the formula to be revised, citing the unsatisfactory nature of the threshold before payments are triggered — 0.2% of a council's annual budget — and the exclusion of capital expenditure and items that can be insured.
The 52-page report, produced by Bannock Consulting, says: 'There is growing pressure on local authorities' capacity to internally fund the cost of emergencies, at a time when the incidence of emergencies may rise due to climatic change.'
The researchers said: 'There is a strong sense that Bellwin should meet most of the aggregate costs of emergency incidents and should, in particular, meet the capital as well as the revenue reinstatement costs.'
Among the latest to question the operation of Bellwin was Paul Tyler, the MP for North Cornwall, which covers Boscastle, the village devastated by flash-flooding in August.
He told the Commons last month: 'There is real difficulty with its complexity, with the very long-winded slow processing of its bureaucracy and its exclusions.'