Wednesday, 12 February 2014

"Money no object," says Cameron. Really? Prove it.

A few days ago I blogged in praise of the government's response to the floods. And that is still generally the case. But one thing is hampering efforts at repairs - money.

In Cornwall, David Cameron said the government would "pick up the tab - 100%". And now he is reported as saying that "money is no object" in relief efforts.

But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has cautioned that there can be "no blank cheque".

This difference is crucial.

The bill for Cornwall Council is already over £21 million and that is split into two sections - around £4 million on immediate relief and around £17 million on longer term repairs. The immediate relief aspect is covered by a scheme known as the Bellwin Scheme. Above a threshold, councils are reimbursed for everything they spend. The government has changed this somewhat so that councils will get back more of the money they spend. But any money we might get for the long term repairs is still mired in uncertainty. Despite what the PM has said, we don't know how much, if any, we will get back or when. And if we do get something, will this be new money or will we lose it from some other budget somewhere down the line?

This matters because the uncertainty is holding up the repairs. Cornwall cannot really afford to spend £21 million or more in the next few months if we don't know that we will get it back. It would wipe out the bulk of our reserves and make us vulnerable to any future unforeseen circumstances.

So the council has written to the Prime Minister asking for urgent clarification. We need to know the details of the revised Bellwin scheme as well as a firm commitment to the amount of the long term repair bill that the government will give us back.

UPDATE - At Prime Minister's Questions today, Mr Cameron said that businesses affected by the flooding would get full business rates relief.

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