Amidst all the talk about cuts there has of course been no analysis of how much money the Environment Agency, the main body to control flooding, has received. The BBC never wants the figures to get in the way of a good cuts story.
In 2014-15 the Environment Agency received a grant of £890 million, compared to £652 million the year before. Ministers made clear they wanted more to be done to curb and prevent flooding. In particular they demanded dredging of Somerset rivers after the disaster in the Somerset levels and asked the EA to work with local interests elsewhere on river maintenance, dredging and weeding.
The Agency was given the following as its first two objectives:
Corporate Target 1a to “improve protection from flooding for more households”
and Corporate Target 1b to “maintain flood and coastal risk management assets at or above the required level”
The Environment Agency reported that it did carry out the specific instruction to dredge Somerset rivers, with work on “an 8kn stretch of the Parrett and Tone rivers”. They pledged to “better maintain these waterways in the future”.
In the rest of the country the EA gingerly embarked on some pilot joint ventures with local interests over river maintenance to remove weeds and silt. There is no sense of urgency or of any widespread new approach communicated in the report. So where did the money go?
Staff costs stayed high at £412 million for the year, with a continuous big build up in pension liabilities. Back liabilities amounted to £707 million at the March 2015 date.
There was capital spending of £281 million. This figure included £41 million on risk strategies and maps rather than on ditches, better river beds and embankments.
Redundancies were down on the previous year, but 9 people still left on packages in excess of £100,000 each.
Ministers need to ask again about how all their 10,000 staff are deployed, and ask again about policy towards maintaining rivers and anti flood structures.
It’s not so much the quantity of money that is the issue, but what you spend it on. The UK debate is so often about the need for additional money and so rarely about what all the committed money is spent on at the moment.