John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): First, may I reiterate my thanks to not only the emergency services, but the families, friends, neighbours and communities who did so much during the floods to help the people of my constituency who were directly and, indeed, indirectly affected? I was also very pleased that the Prime Minister came to Carlisle immediately after the initial floods to see the issues for himself. That certainly set the tone within Government, and I fully recognise that Ministers have been up to Cumbria on a regular basis and have been very supportive, helpful and proactive in their response. I want to give particular mention to the floods Minister, my parliamentary neighbour the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who has been extremely busy both as a Minister and in his own constituency.
I can only speak from my own experience of what the Government have done. I wrote to the Prime Minister immediately after the event, asking for support for the Cumbria Community Foundation. The Chancellor announced that the Government would give matched funding of £1 million, which has subsequently been increased to £2 million. I am very pleased that the foundation has also managed to raise £2 million itself, so we will have at least £4 million to help many families and individuals who have experienced great difficulties.
The Government have also introduced the Bellwin scheme, which is at 100%, not 85%, and announced £50 million to improve properties for future flood resilience
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and prevention; £5 million to support affected businesses; £40 million for transport infrastructure; and, of course, rate relief for both residential and business properties.
My office is already actively dealing with a number of queries from constituents as a result of the floods, which have had three principal effects on Carlisle. First, more than 2,000 residential properties have been affected—many, sadly, for the second time—but people have proved remarkably resilient and determined, and they are committed to getting back into their homes as quickly as possible. Secondly, it is vital that businesses recover as quickly as they can and get back up and trading, and that economic confidence returns to our city as soon as possible. Thirdly, education is often the forgotten sector, but three secondary schools and 3,000 pupils were affected, with one of those schools facing long-term issues. I am therefore very pleased that the Secretary of State for Education will visit, and I am grateful for her Department’s proactive support in responding to my calls for assistance.
A more long-term approach needs to be taken to the issue of flooding. The impact of flooding policy will affect many future Parliaments and Governments of different political colours. We should therefore consider long-term solutions, policies and initiatives to help our communities. The Government have already started that work with a six-year budget, and I welcome the announcement of a new Cumbrian floods partnership, which will consider all possible improvements to flood defences and flood prevention in Cumbria. Clearly, we need to look at all aspects—flood defences, prevention and resilience—and accept that there is no one solution for the whole country. Each area needs to be considered on an individual basis.
As for today’s motion, I have to say that I am disappointed with the Opposition’s approach. It would have been far better had they been more constructive and recognised that no policy or flood scheme is perfect and that there is a limit to the amount of resource that can be spent. Cumbria is a prime example of that. Under the last Labour Government, £50 million was spent on flood defences. Some of the defences worked and some did not. Was that the fault of the Labour Government? Let us have a constructive debate about the future of floods policy and do the right thing for our constituents.