UK TRANSPORT Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said there is no “blank cheque” to pay for repairing the damage of weeks of storms and floods in England, a day after David Cameron told reporters that “money is no object” to relief efforts.
Mr McLoughlin indicated that there would be “careful consideration” before money is spent on the larger rebuilding exercise of restoring damaged infrastructure after water levels recede.
“I don’t think it’s a blank cheque,” Mr McLoughlin told ITV1’s Daybreak. “I think what the Prime Minister was making very clear is that we are going to use every resource of the Government and money is not the issue while we are in this relief job, in the first instance, of trying to bring relief to those communities that are affected.”
Cameron said yesterday Britain was a “wealthy nation” and that “money is no object” to the relief efforts required by flooded communities.
At a press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister announced he was now cancelling a planned trip next week to the Middle East in order to take personal charge of the crisis.
Last night, 16 severe flood warnings, 133 flood warnings and 225 flood alerts were still in force across southern England, and the Prime Minister said the situation could deteriorate.
He said: “There is absolutely no sign of this threat abating, and with further rain and strong winds forecast throughout the week, things may get worse before they get better.”
His warning came as the Environment Agency (EA) said rises in the level of the River Thames would cause more disruption. Around 1,000 properties have been reported as flooded in the past week, including 800 along the Thames.
Yesterday, senior flood adviser Kate Marks warned it was “increasingly likely” there would also be problems along the River Severn and River Wye.
Mr Cameron, meanwhile, said every effort would be made to help those affected. “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent,” he said.
He said the miliary would now play a further role with 1,600 servicemen and women already deployed and thousands more in reserve.
He said: “They will be working to provide assistance and assurance to members of the public including by reinforcing sandbags and flood defences, getting medical assistance to the sick and infirm and checking on and helping any other vulnerable people.
“I urge everyone in those affected areas to keep listening to the warnings and to work with the emergency services and the military.”
Among the government’s response to the crisis is the creation of a new Cabinet committee to oversee the recovery, which Mr Cameron will chair tomorrow. He said a tax-deferral scheme would help businesses hit by flooding, while up to £10 million in new funding was being found for farmers.
Grants for homeowners and businesses will be available to improve flood defences. Mr Cameron said: “I’m setting up a new Cabinet committee to oversee the recovery.
“We’ll be focusing on getting the insurance companies out there so people can make their claims quickly and the Association of British Insurers, together with the CBI and other business organisations, are meeting here in Downing Street as I speak to help us develop further measures to help businesses in affected areas.
“In the days ahead as homeowners, businesses and farmers think about how to piece their lives back together again, we’ll be announcing a number of new schemes to help.
“For homeowners, support in the form of grants to build in better flood protection as they repair their properties. For businesses, a tax-deferral scheme for businesses affected by the floods to give them longer to pay their taxes and again grants to help them improve flood defences.
“And for farmers, we’ll be establishing new funding that will release up to £10m to help them recover from the devastation to their livelihoods.”
The Prime Minister said houses that were not insured could access “hardship funds”.
Mr Cameron said there would be a “bespoke grant system” of several thousand pounds per household, so they could improve flood defences for the future as they rebuild.
Asked if there needed to be a rethink over building on flood plains, Mr Cameron insisted official advice from the EA and others was followed in 99 per cent of cases. Mr Cameron also said he “suspected” a connection with climate change.
He said: “I think the point I would make is whatever your view about this issue, clearly we have had and are having some pretty extreme weather.”
Earlier in the day, the EA warned further rises in the level of the Thames are set to cause more disruption.
Ms Marks said: “We are aware of over 1,000 properties flooded in this latest event across the country, of which about 800 are probably in the Thames area. Groundwater continues to be a problem, particularly across southern England. That will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Milliband visit ‘publicity stunt’
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband was accused of visiting a village hit by severe flooding for a “photo opportunity” while the community is struggling to clean up.
Mr Miliband was told to ask residents if “they welcome you here or not” as he toured Purley-On-Thames, Berkshire, to see the damage.
Alok Sharma, Conservative MP for Reading West, said the Environment Agency had recommended action after the 2003 floods in the area and said the previous Labour government failed to provide the funding needed. In a face-off, Mr Miliband was told he should have “done a bit of homework”.
Mr Sharma said: “The issue Mr Miliband is, why are you actually here? Because what I’m hearing from local residents, actually they’re not actually interested in people just coming for a photo opportunity . . .”
Mr Miliband replied: “My suggestion today is we work together because this is not about politics today.”
Flood water contaminated
Health officials have urged people in flood-stricken areas to take precautions against dirty water after samples have been likened to a water cooler filled with a blend of water and two teaspoons of horse manure.
Experts say sewage and animal waste mixed into flood waters could mean people are being exposed to numerous harmful bugs. If ingested, they can lead to symptoms including fever, stomach pain and diarrhoea.
E.coli and salmonella are common bacteria found in flood water as a result of contamination with farmyard waste, said Dr Ben Neuman, microbiologist from the University of Reading.
He added human sewage could spread the winter vomiting bug norovirus or hepatitis A.