Environment Secretary Owen Paterson visits flood-stricken Worcestershire one day and blames the insurance industry for not producing "constructive proposals" on flood insurance. The very next day the chairman of the ABI is locked in talks with Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin. In short, the matter has been taken out of Mr Paterson's hands.
This is no great surprise as the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has bungled badly on this issue, promising alot and delivering nothing. In the summer it forgot to check out its plans – largely agreed with insurers – with the Treasury. This threw the slow moving but constructive talks into such confusion that they completely stalled. The argument between Defra and the Association of British Insurers turned into a major public spat last month as the ABI's patience finally wore out.
The government's attempt to switch the focus back to amount it is willing to spend on flood defences was designed to put pressure back on insurers. It might have gained some momentum if it had stopped raining in December. The widespread flooding just highlighted how much more needs to be done to protect flood-prone areas, even showing some defences built in the last decade to be inadequate.
Now, the talks are back on but with DEFRA on the sidelines. Let's hope something tangible and workable comes out of them.
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