Thursday, December 27, 2007

Changes to funding could sink Scottish flood defences

The Herald (Edinburgh): Ministers could be forced to "hand out sandbags" because funding changes have left Scotland more vulnerable to flooding, Labour claimed yesterday. The accusation followed the Scottish Government's concordat with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), a deal that exchanged a council tax freeze for the removal of ring-fencing from many funding allocations.

Labour has been claiming that many of these funding areas required to be specially protected, and on flood prevention Sarah Boyack, shadow environment secretary, was particularly critical yesterday. "The decision to end ring-fencing of flood defence and prevention schemes shows the real lack of importance this SNP government attach to preventing flooding," she said.

However, Environment Minister Michael Russell dismissed the claim, pointing out that spending on flood prevention would increase by more than 40% over the next three years. He said new agreements would replace the old ring-fencing approach. Ms Boyack said: "This issue will not go away, because climate change is happening and instances of heavy rainfall will increase."

The former minister added: "The SNP should put the ring-fence back on flood defence budgets and ensure it gets proper priority, otherwise ministers will be reduced to handing out sandbags to householders if Scotland gets hit by a major flood."

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency estimates there are almost 100,000 properties at risk from flooding, according to Ms Boyack who said money for flood defences rose to a record level of £42m a year under the last Labour/LibDem government. Mr Russell countered: "The Scottish Government has announced funding totalling £126m for flood prevention schemes over the next three years. This represents a 41% increase with schemes funded on an 80/20 basis.

"It is the responsibility of each local authority to allocate its total financial resources based on local needs and priorities. The Scottish Government is in discussion with Cosla on local outcome agreements for each of the 32 local authorities and is keen to ensure flooding issues will be covered in these agreements."

The minister pointed to a passage in the concordat stating: "In 2008-09, local government capital increases by 13% and that increase is then held up to 2010-11. "In total, £2.9bn is being provided over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11 to secure investment in local government infrastructure such as schools, flood prevention measures, roads, waste management, and the police estate and that of the fire and rescue services."

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