Tories must ensure £51m of EU money is made available to flood victims
Update, April 5th, 2017
Finally! After a year and a half of Tory blockages, funding for the floods vixtims is finally on its way. Today, the European Parliament voted in favour of £51 million to be sent to the North West to help rebuild after the devastating floods. Labour MEPs have called on the government to urgently come up with a plan that will speed up the rebuilding of communities hit by the 2015 floods.
The funds can be used for the restoration to working order of infrastructure for energy, water, transport, telecoms, health and education; temporary accommodation and emergency services to meet the immediate needs of the population; securing of preventive infrastructure such as dams and dykes; measures to protect cultural heritage; and clean-up operations.
In my constituency, thousands and thousands of people were affected by the floods, which left a trail of destruction and devastation: £2.1 billion of damage, more than 16,000 households flooded - around 3,600 households placed into alternative accommodation - nearly 5,000 businesses flooded.
The money should be spent on improved flood defences, which failed catastrophically, but most importantly, the money must go to the people who suffered the consequences, many of whom are still living in temporary accommodation.
It’s great news that these funds are available for those affected by the floods, but we cannot have it now lying dormant in a bank account in Whitehall - knowing this money was coming, the government should already have a plan to spend the £50 million urgently and prudently.
The European Commission proposes EU solidarity fund for UK floods assistance
Update, January 13th, 2017
A year on, the European Commission has published its proposal to provide 52 million pounds of assistance to the UK for areas affected by the floods of winter 2015.
Following pressure from Labour MEPs and civil society groups, and months of procrastination by the government, UK authorities eventually completed the application for EU funds following pressure from the Commission itself.
The UK government estimates the damage caused by the floods, which hit the north of the UK, and particularly the North West of England in December 2015, as being 2.4 billion euros.
The Commission will now refer the Solidarity Fund proposal to European Parliament and Council for adoption. Once the Solidarity Fund budget is adopted, the UK would be able to receive the money almost immediately, once they provide information on who the implementing authorities will be who will make use of the funds and what the intended use of the funds is.
This is a result of the work of Labour MEPs and activists on the ground who lobbied the government to complete their applications for funds. It is also a sign that even with Brexit taken place, the Commission and EU institutions still see the UK as a Member State with full rights and obligations.
Julie calls on UK government to apply for EU Solidarity Funds
Update, January 15th, 2016
Another week of flood damage in the North of England and Scotland, and still the Tory Government is unwilling to act.
As the repercussions of the floods drag on, this week in the European Parliament during a committee meeting and in private, I asked Corina Crețu, the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, if the UK was eligible to apply for the EU Solidarity Fund. This is a special pot of money, accessible to all 28 EU Member States and accession countries, to help deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster such as forest fires, earthquakes, drought and floods.
It can pay for the cost of restoring essential infrastructure, provision of temporary accommodation for disaster victims and also fund clean-up operations, amongst many other measures. The fund is quick and easy to access and can cover costs already incurred, but the government must apply within 12 weeks of the disaster occurring.
Crețu not only said that the UK was welcome to apply, but if the Tory Government had already done so, then the affected areas would have immediately received 10% of the funding available. Just think about the difference that such a sizeable chunk of money could have made to the citizens of Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland whose homes and businesses have been destroyed by the floods.
I stated to the Commissioner:
"I am the only MEP with an office in the county of Cumbria, which was at the epicentre of the floods in the UK just before Christmas and which continued into the New Year. It is going to be hugely, hugely important for these communities to access regional development funding in order to rebuild and reconstruct, particularly if my government, shamefully, does not apply for the EU Solidarity Fund which is available to it."
"Of course, the UK is entitled to apply for the Solidarity Fund. We have not received until now any requests at the European Commission - we just share solidarity with the people of Cumbria, and we would like to help. They have 12 weeks since the start [of the flooding]. But it's a pity in my view; it's my personal view that it's a mathematical equation of the UK government not to show that they need EU money. But we have this instrument that is very helpful because by now we could have released 10%..."
Just before Christmas, the UK was hit by three storms Desmond, Eva and Frank. However, it seems that the worst storm is yet to come, that of the Tory Government who, in a nonsensical political battle against the EU, continues to reject the tools that could be used to rebuild people's lives.
UK Floods Information
In December 2015 and January 2016 the North of England, parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland saw unprecedented rainfall followed by catastrophic flooding to thousands of homes and businesses and with significant damage to infrastructure including buildings, transport and bridges. The North West took the brunt of this extreme weather, which began with significant flooding in Cumbria and Lancashire before extending into parts of Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
From the beginning I toured flooded areas in the Region and have spent time talking to residents whose homes have been flooded, business people who are facing the challenge of how they keep trading, local authorities and other partners who have been involved from the ‘blue light’ emergency phase and who are now involved in helping with the recovery. I have been deeply moved by the response of local communities and the hundreds of volunteers from across the Region and Nationally who have come to the aid of my constituency during this great trauma.
I invited Jeremy Corbyn to come up to Cumbria to see for himself the impact floods have had in the area and was pleased that he was able to visit Cockermouth and Carlisle.
I also attended both meetings of the newly formed Carlisle Residents and Businesses Flood Action Group where I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of local people.
EU Solidarity Fund
I have spoken twice in the European Parliament about the floods and about the need for help and solidarity from other member states. With other Labour MEPs we have written to the Prime Minister inviting him to apply for aid from the EU Solidarity Fund, which is there to assist member states who have suffered from some natural catastrophe such as flooding. This fund was created in 2002 to assist member states that have suffered from some natural catastrophe such as flooding and which has so far helped 24 member states. Only our Government can apply for this grant and so far there is no sign that our Prime Minister will ask for this help. From what I have seen so far it is obvious that the cost of recovery will be very high indeed and I feel strongly that the UK would benefit from applying for this fund. Member states only have 12 weeks from a disaster occurring to apply for the fund. There is only a short time left if the UK is to benefit from this. The Govt has so far offered up flood relief for the UK but it is not new money and is very likely taking money away from other services.
It has been brought to my attention that a government minister has suggested the reason the UK Government will not apply for this fund is because they believe that it will take months for the EU to agree it. This is not true. The application process is a very short one and there is an opportunity for Govt to get an advance on funding ahead of the full amount being agreed.
It is also not true that the EU requires matched funding.
Dredging of rivers
One of the issues that have been raised with me and other MEP’s and MP’s is the issue of dredging of rivers. There have been numerous newspaper articles and comment on social media suggesting that flooding has occurred because the EU has banned the dredging of rivers. These rather mischievous reports are quoting the EU Water Framework of 2002 and suggesting that this framework forbids the UK Government from dredging rivers.
This is simply not true. I have had it confirmed from the Environment Agency that they have spent £21Million on dredging in the last two years in places where it was appropriate to do so.
Below are two links to the EU Water Framework Directive and the Flood Directive. The EU Water Framework, which has been adopted by all member states, was passed into UK law in 2005. The Water Framework was created in order to ensure the integrity of our rivers and to make sure that we have clean water free from toxins. The Floods Directive seeks to ensure that each member state has robust plans in place to deal with high volumes of water. Each member state has to produce one of these plans every six years. The UK Flood Plan was meant to be in place and signed off on the 31st December. Regretfully there is no link to this important plan because the Govt has decided to re write in in the light of the recent floods.
To read more about the EU Solidarity Fund please click here.