2007 saw very bad flooding in the UK. A report was commissioned from Michael Pitt (no longer available on a government website, but available here (pdf), HT @FiDaisyG) which stated:
ES.12 The scale of the problem is, as we know, likely to get worse. We are not sure whether last summer’s events were a direct result of climate change, but we do know that events of this kind are expected to become more frequent. The scientific analysis we have commissioned as part of this Review (published alongside this Report) shows that climate change has the potential to cause even more extreme scenarios than were previously considered possible. The country must adapt to increasing flood risk.
The Labour government responded to this review by substantially increasing central government spending on flood prevention. It reached a peak in 2010/11, the last year of the relevant spending review. Subsequently the coalition government, as part of its austerity policy, cut back on spending, going directly against the spirit of the Pitt review.
It was obvious following 2007 that substantially more money needed to be spent on flood prevention as a result of climate change, and the Labour government acted on that knowledge. The Coalition government ignored it. Suppose that instead of cutting, the coalition government had allowed spending to increase each year by 2% from that 2010/11 level: a very modest rise given the nature of the risk. That would have meant that by 2015/16 around £500 million more in 15/16 prices would have been spent in total, which is about three quarters of the total amount spent this year. As 2014/15 is acknowledged as a one-off positive blip, by 2020/21 under Conservative plans we will probably be looking at missing expenditure near £1 billion. And that is despite all the flooding that has occurred since 2011, some of the damage from which must be the result of this missing spending. That is a huge spending gap created by the Conservatives.
I still find it remarkable that no one has held the government to account for this huge failure. Flooding is currently costing at least £1 billion a year. Even if filling that spending gap had prevented only a small proportion of these current and future costs, it would have produced a handsome return, as well as avoiding a great deal of individual heartbreak. Yet the government continues to get away with talking about unprecedented rainfall, as if no one had thought this might happen. John Deben, Chairman of the Statutory Committee on Climate Change, tweets
"Surprising no broadcaster seems to have sought to discuss advice on flooding and adaptation to climate change given to Government"
The Labour Party too appears to have made no attempt to coordinate a media attack on the government, in an area where their own record was exemplary. DEFRA secretary of state at the time that Labour increased flood defences was Hilary Benn, who is MP for Leeds (one of the areas affected by flooding) and Ed Miliband was the minister in charge of energy and climate change. The current DEFRA shadow minister is Kerry McCarthy, and all I could find from her on flooding was this and this.
Speaking about the latest flooding, David Cameron said “We will do everything we can to help people in this, their hour of need.” It is a shame that no one seems capable of asking him why he added to these needs, by ignoring the growing evidence (including the Pitt review) that more money needed to be spent on flood defences.