David Cameron: “The fact is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be spending over £2.1 billion on flood and coastal erosion risk management over the next four years; that is roughly the same as what was spent over the past four years.”
Prime Minister’s Questions, 17 November 2010
With heavy flooding forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes in Cornwall, David Cameron was asked at Prime Minister’s Questions to defend supposed cuts to the flood defence budget.
However responding to Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw’s question, the PM denied that any such cuts were in the works, arguing that his Government was planning to spend “roughly the same amount” on flood defences as the previous administration.
Is Mr Cameron correct to rebuff Mr Bradshaw’s remarks? Full Fact dipped its toe into the water.
According to the Spending Review report, the Coalition Government is planning “continued investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management, with £2 billion being spent in total over the spending review period [2011/12-2014/15].”
Although slightly lower than the £2.1 billion quoted by Mr Cameron, this is indeed ‘roughly’ analogous to the money set aside in the last Spending Review, conducted in 2007 by the previous Labour Government. Herein, £2.15 billion was pledged to flood risk management over the Spending Review period.
However rather than covering the four year period that the Prime Minister claims, the previous Spending Review outlined plans for the three years between 2008/09 and 2010/11, as the table below shows:
If expenditure for the year 2007/08 is added to the equation to bring it up to four year period, total spending on flood risk management tips £2.75 billion. A comparison between this and the £2 billion pledged by Mr Cameron’s Government reveals a cut of 27 per cent.
To muddy the waters further, this cut is in nominal cash terms, which regular Full Fact readers will recall is an imperfect measure of comparative levels of spending.
This is because the value of that spending reduces in line with inflation. As a spokesperson for the Institute for Fiscal Studies told us when we previously looked at the issue, “any sensible analysis has to take account of inflation, as spending doesn’t mean much in nominal terms.”
Even if one accepts that the £2 billion pledged by Mr Cameron represents the Government ‘protecting’ the level of flood defence spending initiated under the previous administration, it represents a fall in real terms over the four years. If we assume that the £2 billion is spread evenly over the four years to 2015, using the Treasury’s GDP deflators we can calculate that this real terms cut may amount to £170 million.
David Cameron’s claim that the flood risk management budget has been ‘protected’ can therefore be questioned on two counts: firstly the Prime Minister seems to be comparing the money pledged over the three years of the last Spending Review period with that set aside for the four years to 2015; and secondly he does not account for the effects of inflation by calculating the real terms impact of the budget.
Full Fact will be contacting Number 10 for clarification on the matter, and will be asking for a correction where necessary.