Severe weather up North causing a political storm

The political response to Storm Desmond started on Monday following a weekend of destruction and chaos. Cumbria is reportedly the worst hit county with over 60,000 homes left without power and many lacking clean water, following the strong winds and up to 200m of rainfall. The NHS in Lancashire declared a ‘major incident’, Lancaster University cancelled teaching for the rest of the term having suffered substantial power loss across its campus and the army has even been drafted in to help. The Queen has also conveyed a message of sympathy over Twitter to those affected.

The Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, who was near-stranded by flooding in his own constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, first thanked the emergency services for their support in the region, before criticising the government for side-lining nearly 300 flood defence schemes as ‘low priority’. In a letter to David Cameron, he called on the government to provide additional funding to support homeowners and businesses affected by the flooding. In reference to the Northern Powerhouse, Mr Farron commented, “That rhetoric must now be backed up by action… Indeed, whilst I support the government’s plans for greater infrastructure spending in the North of England, the reality is that very significant sums will be required in areas like South Lakeland simply to restore pre-existing infrastructure to its prior levels.

David Cameron visited affected areas on Monday, commending the work of emergency services whilst promising additional funding for councils to fully cover the costs of clearing up the damage caused. Critics have pointed to a projected drop in government funding for flood defence in England from £802m last year to £695m in this financial year – though ministers are quick to defend this, pointing out that the former figure was inflated by severe winter flooding in 2013. On her visit to Carlisle, the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss argued recent defence systems had helped to delay and reduce the impact, providing more time for evacuations and for the emergency services to respond. Conservative MP Neil Marsh, Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee has called for ‘real cash’ to be provided, urging the government to do more.

Jeremy Corbyn referred to the flooding as ‘a consequence of the destruction of our environment’ whilst accusing David Cameron of false promises when commenting ‘money is no object’ in dealing with flood damage. Mr Corbyn said, ‘But this has proved yet another false promise. In the last parliament, the government slashed spending on flood defences before the 2014 winter floods.’

The aftermath of Storm Desmond will for many people be drawn out as work will begin to restore their homes long after being reconnected to power lines and clean water supplies. Many will view this as a testing time for the government, judging its response to the devastation of many northerners as a mark of its real commitment and compassion for a Northern Powerhouse. In its initial response to much of the above criticism, the Government has announced that some 5,000 flood affected homes and businesses in Cumbria and Lancashire will be given relief from council tax and business rates.

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