John Swinney defends budget cuts to flood warning agency

Finance secretary John Swinney has defended cuts to Sepa. Picture: Greg Macvean
Finance secretary John Swinney has defended cuts to Sepa. Picture: Greg Macvean
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John Swinney said the Scottish Government had provided flood defences to communities the “length and breadth” of Scotland as he defended budget cuts to the country’s environment agency.

Mr Swinney faced stinging criticism yesterday for reducing funding for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) by 6 per cent, from £39 million to £36.6m in his recent draft budget for 2016-17. The agency is responsible for flood forecasting, flood warning and strategic flood risk management.

Mr Swinney insisted the government was committed to doing all it could to help those affected by flooding.

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He told Sky News: “The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has a broad range of responsibilities and what the budget settlement provides for is sustained funding for the flood forecasting service for example, and also for the investment that is necessary in a variety of flood protection and flood alleviation schemes which we have sustained since we came to office in 2007 and which we intend to sustain for the duration of this budget settlement.

“We’ve got a lot of work that’s being done just now to protect communities from the harsh effects of flooding.

“Flooding and the implications of flooding are very serious for individuals and the government is committed to doing all that we can to support communities in withstanding these challenges.”

Mr Swinney said capital funding had been put in place for flood prevention schemes, including in Edinburgh, Elgin, Selkirk and Galashiels.

The Scottish Government’s spending plans for the next financial year also included £4m for councils hit by an earlier wave of floods.

Scottish Labour’s environmental justice spokeswoman, Sarah Boyack, called for an “urgent review” of flood defences in Scotland’s 32 local authority areas.

She said: “I know from Edinburgh’s experience that our flood scheme works were delayed and then split into different phases as the council struggled to find the money upfront for all the works.

“Given that we know there is more bad weather on the way, the SNP need to think again about the proposal to cut Sepa’s budget. There needs to be an urgent review by all local authorities of their flood defences and the SNP government will need to make good on the promise made by the First Minister to provide extra financial resources where they are needed.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to helping communities get back on their feet as quickly as possible following the devastating flooding which has affected parts of the country in recent weeks, and working with Sepa, local authorities and other emergency responders to protect communities and property from future adverse weather.

“We will continue to support Sepa in the face of real-term cuts imposed on the Scottish budget by the UK government every year from now until 2020. Funding of nearly £37m for 2016-17 enables Sepa to deliver its new statutory purpose with a primary focus on protecting Scotland’s environment whilst also delivering benefits for communities and the economy.”