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£600M black hole in flood defence budget

England’s flood defence budget has a £600M black hole because of government spending cuts since 2010, a committee of MPs has warned.

Ministers hoped that the private sector would plug the shortfall – but this has proved nowhere near sufficient, according tocross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee chair Anne McIntosh.

“We support the principle, but we have repeatedly expressed concern about the relatively small amounts of private sector funding secured to date,” said the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton.

In December, the Government committed £2.3bn for flood defences over the next six years. However, that plan relies on a quarter – £600M – coming from external contributions. During 2014-15, just £40M of the £148M secured from outside central government came from private sources, according to the committee. The rest came from local authorities.

“It is unclear how the £600M target can be met, and we want the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to demonstrate how it intends to obtain that money and to explain the impact on its investment programme if the money does not come forward,” said McIntosh.

Her committee also criticised Defra for failing to explain what work it had dropped to provide the emergency flood funding, or to cope with a further £200M cut to its overall budget in 2015-16. “We are not aware of any reason why Defra could not identify which specific budgets were reduced, despite our repeated requests for this information,” said the MPs in a statement.

Previous reports from the committee warned that devastating floods could hit England again unless government reversed “massive” cuts to Defra’s budget and that cost-cutting on defences was a false economy.

The devastating floods of last winter – the wettest recorded for 250 years – led to the government handing out emergency grants to the worst-hit regions.

But last November, the National Audit Office reported that flood defence funding had fallen by 10% since 2010.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “By the end of this financial year, the partnership funding approach we introduced in 2012 is expected to have raised £140M. This compares with just £13M in the previous four years. We are working closely with the Environment Agency to attract more investment and are introducing tax relief for business contributions to flood risk management projects from 2015 onwards, to encourage more investment.”

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