Individuals, families and entire communities have all been hit by the floods that devastated the country over the Christmas period and into the New Year. But the Government has failed to seek EU assistance to support the clean-up operation and Alex Cunningham has warned that time is fast running out to do so.
The European Union Solidarity Fund was established to respond to such natural disasters as those experienced in Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and swathes of Scotland. With a 12 week window for applications to be made following an event, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment raised the issue during questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to highlight that just three weeks remain for a bid to be submitted.
Despite the Fund being used by states across the EU in response to 70 disasters, ranging from flooding and forest fires to earthquakes and storms, the Environment Secretary was unable to confirm whether the Government intends to apply for support. Initial estimates of the total costs suggest the clean-up bill will exceed £5 billion, with recovery costs in Cumbria alone anticipated to be £650 million.
The UK has contributed £300 million into the Fund since its inception in 2002. Italy, Bulgaria and Romania received more than £40 million last year in similar circumstances to those currently facing communities across the UK.
Speaking after Departmental Questions, Alex said:
“The first floods for which an application could be made happened in Cumbria over eight weeks ago. There are just three weeks left to submit an application, but the Government’s hesitance is extremely worrying.
“The Secretary of State has previously said that the Government is committed to doing what it takes to get areas hit by flooding up and running. But this pledge will remain nothing more than an empty gesture unless an application is actually made before the deadline.
“Suggestions that any support received would impact the UK’s rebate, and that the length of time taken for monies to be distributed would hinder any relief work, are extremely unhelpful and demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the process when tens of millions of pounds could be made available within weeks to help pay for clean-up costs and the rebuilding of vital infrastructure.
“It worries me that perhaps a Eurosceptic approach is being adopted and Ministers don’t want the EU to be seen in a good light – delivering important help for Britain. Now we stand on the verge of losing vital funds for our local authorities and others unless action is taken swiftly.
“We’ve paid in, and it’s time to get what is due to us.”