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Maintaining our flood defences: the policy remains to cut now, pay later



The government is cutting flood spending in real terms, just as the country is hit by even more damaging floods. Blaming the Environment Agency for the spending decisions of government and MPs who voted them through is a clever distraction tactic. It ignores facts and the resultant suffering on the ground, with worse to come.

Full Fact, a fact-checking organisation, recently dissected the government’s claim that “record sums” were being spent on flood defences. That is only true if you ignore the inconvenient reality of inflation. £1 five years ago is not worth the same £1 today.

Full Fact points out, “This year (2013/14), according to the latest estimates, the government is expected to spend £533m on flood defences… This is part of a falling trend in spending since 2010… In 2010/11 the government spent the equivalent of £685m on flood defences, once inflation is taken into account.”

Insisting on further cuts to the Environment Agency’s budget and staffing levels while condemning them for not performing their role is a twisted sort of logic.

Full fact concludes, “It’s difficult at present to substantiate the claim that we’re spending record levels.” You can read the full article here.

Lies, damn lies, statistics and minister’s statistics

David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Hunt have all be reprimanded by the independent watchdog for their misuse of statistics on public debt, welfare reform and health spending respectively.

It seems that it won’t be long before Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, joins the triumvirate of statistical transgressors. Not that they seem to care. It comes to something when the prime minister and secretaries of state make statements which are demonstrably misleading or inaccurate.

Admittedly we can’t expect evidence-based decision-making from an environment secretary (BA history, Cantab) who refutes the scientific consensus of human-caused climate change, and sees those who disagree with him as ideologically-driven without seeing any irony in that statement.

The principle role of government is the preservation of life against enemies both foreign and domestic.

The threat today is not the traditional enemies of hostile nations but, of all things, the weather. Our weather will get more extreme. Ignoring this and the climate science that underpins it, while not investing enough today to ensure we don’t have to pay more tomorrow, is shortsighted and reckless.

Abusing statistic and making media-friendly statements that cannot be substantiated is unworthy of a member of the government.

Further reading:

Government admits ‘inconsistencies’ in flood defence spending

Lord Rooker: more woodland can help against floods

Government needs to ‘work with nature’ on flood risk

Questions over accuracy of government’s flood defence spending

Government spending slashed on climate change preparation

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.