What are we to make of the government's response to the devastating floods in Doncaster, Hull and Sheffield?
One minute, the pleas for an uplift in spending on flood defences to £750m appear to be falling on deaf ears and then the next minute the new Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, pops up with a pledge to raise the spending to £800m by 2010/11. Of course, it is a very welcome change of heart although pressure now needs to be applied to ensure that the increased spending is rolled out as quickly as possible. But why did it take such severe flooding to prompt it?
Whatever Gordon Brown says to try and distance himself from the media obsessed approach of Tony Blair, nothing galvanises a government more than headline coverage of thousands of electors in distress, especially when they come from your political heartlands. The trouble is this was a disaster waiting to happen somewhere in the UK, which is what the insurance industry has been saying for the last few years. It shouldn’t have taken last week’s deluge to get this commitment to spend on flood defences. The challenge now has to be to move quick enough to ensure that no more lives are lost and communities devastated as a consequence of the inaction of recent years. There should be no let up in the lobbying to get this new money spent effectively.
• One of the hardest parts of this to deal with will be the huge uninsured losses. We know that around a quarter of the population don't have adequate household insurance and that proportion is almost certainly much higher in the areas worst affected. Who should pay to put them back on their feet? This is obviously a question that is vexing the government and local authorities as their comments yesterday about waiting for the extent of insurance losses to be assessed before announcing the details of government aid reveal. There is a real problem here. Throw too much easy money at people without insurance and it will make those who bothered to protect themselves and their families properly wonder why they bothered: on the other hand, many of those without insurance are in a desperate state and must be given help. It is largely down to the insurance industry to demonstrate the broader benefits of having proper cover, such as speedy access to expert help, sourcing alternative accommodation, finding the right people to repair damaged property quickly and to the highest standards and so on. I know this is the minimum I would expect from my insurers.
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