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The prime minister said spending is broadly even, the environment secretary said there's an 8% cut, the environment agency said the cut is 27%. What's going on?
Sometimes, dear reader, I have to do things so you don't. In this case it was literally to give myself a headache trying to work out what has actually happened to the UK's spending on flood defences. I think the government, from the prime minister down, has spun the figures pretty shamelessly, given that everyone – including Cameron – agrees that risk of floods is increasing due to climate change. But I'll set out the gory details so you can make up your own mind.
Last week, David Cameron said flood defence spending over the next four years would be "broadly the same as the amount we spent over the past four years”. That was in answers to the Liason committee on Thursday. He said spending would be "roughly the same" at prime minister's questions the day before.
The environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, subsequently clarified that spending on flood defences would, in fact, fall by 8% over the next four years, compared with the previous four years.
So why did Lord Smith of the Environment Agency, which does almost all the flood defence work, tell me last Monday the cut was 27%? The key, helpfully explained to me not by Defra but by the shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, is that flood defence spending rose rapidly over the last four years, as the Defra website shows. Defra's spending on flood defences increased from £500m in 2007/8 to £665m in 2010/11, a 33% increase.
The coalition government has decided to spend £540m a year for the next four years. So here's the maths: if you take as the baseline for the cuts the average of the last four years, then the government's £540m a year is indeed a modest-looking 8% cut. But if you take the current year as the baseline, it's a 22% cut - that adds up to a £616m cut over the four years.
If you assumed that spending would have continued to rise, the cut would look even more enormous. Smith's 27% cut refers to capital spending only – ie investment in new defences, not the maintenance of existing ones, and he also uses the current year as a base.
Cameron, Spelman and Creagh understandably choose the baseline that suits their argument best. But what makes Cameron and Spelman's spin unacceptable in my book is that everyone agrees there are going to be more and worse floods, and that the cuts mean fewer people will have their flood risk reduced. Claiming the flood defence budgets have been "protected" simply won't wash.
But don't take my word for it, or the scientists I spoke to at the Met Office and Cardiff University, take Cameron's word: "Most people accept that, with climate change, [floods] are likely to be more frequent”.
That was in parliament in May 2008, following flooding in his Oxfordshire constituency.
Lord Smith says: "There will be communities that would – if funding had remained in place as at present – be starting flood defence work in a year or two years time that will now be delayed”.
Mary Dhonau, chief executive of the National Flood Forum, a charity that represents over 200 community flood groups around the country says: "They have put a certain amount of government spin on it, they are all very clever at that. I just wish we could have a truthful government. I realise they have difficult decisions to make [on spending] but the public needs to know the truth”.
Spelman accused Creagh of "tasteless political point-scoring". Creagh retorted that Labour would have cut the UK's vast public deficit half as fast as the Conservative-LibDem coalition, so would not have needed to cut so hard. She would not have "rolled over for George (Osborne)”, she told me.
Spelman also tried to explain Cameron's statements by saying "I think 'roughly the same' takes account of the force of inflation" - but taking inflation into account would make the cuts bigger, not smaller.
There are also the issues of whether the usual cost-benefit ratio of 8:1 means flood defence cuts are a false economy, whether asking local communities to contribute towards defences penalises the poor, and whether the cuts will make the insurance industry rethink their promises on coverage.
But I'm sure you have a headache by now, too, so I'll leave you to make up your own mind on who spun what.
El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.
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