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Flood defences face major funding gap, says report

England’s flood defences will face a major funding gap if the poor economic climate prevents “significant” private funding from coming forward, as is feared, the National Audit Office (NAO) said today.

The NAO’s Flood Risk Management in England report, published today, said central funding for the Environment Agency had dropped by 10% over the current four year spending period, at odds with the £20M funding increase the Environment Agency has said it actually needs to maintain the current level of flood protection until 2035.

The NAO cast doubt on whether sufficient private sources could be found to bridge the gap, and fund the crucial maintenance and upgrade of flood defences. It said local authorities had “considerable concern about securing sufficient local funds, especially in the current economic climate”. “Local bodies will be hard pressed to plug any funding gap while under pressure to deliver a number of other newly devolved responsibilities,” it said. The report said the private sector will be expected to provide the majority of funding from 2012/13 under the new Partnership Funding regime, but private sources have contributed just £2.6M to capital investment in flooding since 2008/09, compared with £1.02bn from central government.

The NAO said local authorities are continuing to face problems in building up their expertise by recruiting and retaining appropriately qualified staff. Only 30% of the local authorities the NAO spoke to thought they had the required technical expertise. The NAO also said local knowledge of surface water flood risk was “far less advanced” than national information on fluvial and coastal flood risk.

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