March 10 2014 Latest news:
Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Departments across Whitehall will meet today to discuss if more needs to be done to help areas hit by flooding as some councils claimed it was unlikely they would be able to claim back central government cash.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said a scheme to reimburse local authorities for their immediate costs, including operating rest centres and funding extra staff hours, had been enacted in a statement.
While the payback policy, known as the Bellwin Scheme, could help the hardest hit councils, they will have to reach a certain threshold if they are to claim back any money.
But Mr Paterson said that in the next few days the government would be discussing with every local authority area affected what further help is needed to ensure places can quickly get back on their feet.
A cross-Whitehall co-ordination meeting will be held today to assess the national picture and ministers from a number of departments could meet next week.
Norfolk County Council said it was too early to say what the cost of the floods was, but that it was unlikely to reach the threshold of £2m and it was likely the costs would have to be met through its “rainy day” fund of unallocated reserves.
The Bellwin Scheme will only pay out if costs exceed 0.2pc of a local authority’s revenue budget. If this threshold is met, then 85pc of the costs will be paid out.
West Norfolk Council also said it was unlikely any of its costs would be eligible as the emergency response was unlikely to hit its threshold of £34,246 and its costs related mostly to the recovery phase. But Great Yarmouth Borough Council was more optimistic it could make a claim.
A spokesman said it had spent £52,000 in the 2007 tidal surge operation, which the Bellwin Scheme had helped pay for, and it intended to claim again.
North Norfolk District Council leader, Tom FitzPatrick: said: “In common with other affected areas, North Norfolk District Council is now focusing on recovering from the events of last week. We are helping those who have lost homes and possessions, and are well on the way to clearing and repairing our infrastructure, although this will take many months.”
He said: “Given that North Norfolk has suffered so severely and that we are having to spend money now, I am delighted with his promise of the necessary funding to allow us to get back to normal.”
A Waveney District Council spokesman said that it was almost impossible to put a figure on what the response and recovery would cost. “When we can, we then need to establish what is eligible to be claimed back from the government. Bellwin is a complex scheme and it will need thorough consideration,” he added.
In his statement to the House of Commons Mr Paterson, who chaired three meetings of the emergency committee COBR, also praised the “excellent response from our frontline emergency services”. He said: “I pay tribute to the community spirit of ordinary people who have rallied round to help their neighbours in difficult times.
“I want to particularly praise the work of the Environment Agency, Met Office and Flood Forecasting Centre.
“There were also many local authorities which worked tirelessly to prepare for and respond to the surge as it happened.”
He said that the sea defences had faced their greatest test in 60 years and some parts of the east coast experienced such circumstances only once every 500 years.
He also said that a full assessment of the impact on agricultural land and sites of special scientific interest would take place over the coming weeks.