NAO warns on ‘insufficient’ flood protection spending

5 Nov 14
Current government spending on flood risk management does not meet the maintenance needs of defences, the National Audit Office has warned.

The NAO said half of the country’s flood defences – more than 1350 systems – were been maintained to a ‘minimal level’ leading to increased future flood risk and more rapid deterioration of assets.

An extra £270m had been made available by the government following the winter storms in 2013, including an additional £35m for the maintenance of flood defences in 2014/15 and 2015/16. But the NAO warned that these extra funds only restored maintenance support to 2010/11 levels in cash term. In real terms, funding has declined by 6% decrease since 2010/11, despite the recent cash boost.

Without this extra emergency money, total funding for flood defences decreased by 10% in real terms, the auditors said.

The NAO warned that, as climate change increased, sustaining the current standard of flood protection would be ‘challenging’. It did, however, acknowledge that the Environment Agency had improved the cost effectiveness and prioritisation of its flood risk spending.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: ‘Against a background of tight resources, the agency has improved how it prioritises 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.’

Morse said the Environment Agency would need to make difficult decisions about whether to continue maintaining defences in some areas or let them lapse. This would increase both the risk of future floods and requirements for more expensive ad-hoc emergency solutions.

‘The achievement of value for money in the long term remains significantly uncertain,’ he added.

An Environment Agency spokesman commented: ‘We are on track to reduce flood risk to 165,000 properties between 2011 and 2015 and we will continue to invest in those activities that contribute most to reduce the risk of flooding per pound of funding we receive.

‘Following the 2013 spending review, we have a long-term, six-year capital settlement to continue to improve flood risk management infrastructure. This will allow us to make record levels of investment in capital projects and with this investment we aim to reduce flood risk to a further 300,000 properties.’

Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge said she was ‘deeply concerned’ that current levels of spending were not sufficient to maintain flood protection.

‘It is alarming that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has cut spending on flood protection by 10% between 2011/12 and 2014/15 and it had to react with an emergency bailout of £270m following the winter floods in 2013. Surely this short-term reactive approach is not value for money in the long term.

‘I look forward to hearing how the department plans to achieve value for money for communities in the long term when it appears before my committee on November 24.’



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