Pickles announces shake-up of emergency funds after flooding

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has outlined an overhaul of the Bellwin system under which councils apply for emergency financial help, as well as giving further details of funding for repairs in flood-hit areas.

He came to the House on 6 February 2014 to give a statement in the absence of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who was receiving hospital treatment for a detached retina.

Mr Pickles told MPs an additional £30m would be dedicated to repairs and maintenance on top of £100m announced by David Cameron on 5 February, as well as a review of work needed to restore flood defences.

There would also be changes to the Bellwin scheme, extending the eligibility period to the end of March and paying 100% above the threshold which councils must demonstrate they have paid above their normal expenditure - rather than the usual 85%.

Mr Pickles described the coalition's future funding for flood defences as "unprecedented" and concluded: "We cannot control the weather but we can and will provide the security to hard-working families to allow them to get on with their daily lives."

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle was not impressed, referring to "a lack of national leadership since this crisis began".

She asserted that the £370m for flood defences was "simply restoring" what had been cut under this government and that it amounted to "an admission by the government that it got this wrong".

Anne McIntosh, Conservative chair of the Environment Committee, wanted to know if the new review would look at the points system introduced in 2004 which, she said, "has led to some of the problems we find ourselves with".

Lib Dem MP for Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne, stated that people in Somerset had felt the government was "slow off the mark" but praised it for "now acting in a way that matches the challenge" and asked for assurances on long-term planning.

The secretary of state confirmed that "it is a question of long-term solutions" and that this is what he would seek to achieve.

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