Is the government spending record levels on flood defences?

7 January 2014

"This Government have spent £2.4 billion over this four-year period, which is more than the £2.2 billion spent under the previous Government, but let me announce today that a further £100 million will be made available to fund essential flood repairs and maintenance over the next year. "

David Cameron, Prime Minister's Questions, 5 February 2014

It's been a miserable and in some cases tragic new year for people affected by the flooding across the country. At time of writing, there are still over 231 flood alerts in place, 63 flood warnings and 2 severe flood warnings.

Today, the Prime Minister claimed that more was being spent on flood defences by the government.

Last year (2012-13), according to the latest figures, the government spent £576 million on flood defences in England. This goes towards maintaining existing flood defences, such as coastal walls, improving early warning systems to help pre-empt specific floods, and providing protection directly to households.

This is part of a falling trend in spending since 2010, as Labour points out. In 2010-11 the government spent the equivalent of £698 million on flood defences, taking inflation into account.

The PM's figures come from the latest estimates and compare the last four financial years under Labour (2006-07 to 2009-10) to the first four years of this government (2010-11 to 2013-14).

But there's a problem with counting the figures like this: spending during the first year of the current government was based on the spending plans of the previous administration. That's why some - including the Environment Secretary earlier this year - prefer to compare the current spending review (2011-12 to 2014-15) with the previous four year stretch of Labour's funding plans.

Looking at the figures in this way, a total of £2.37 billion was spent by DEFRA between 2007/08 and 2010/11. Based on current spending plans, this government will spend £2.34 billion on the same - slightly less in cash terms but very similar.

But taking the figures purely in cash terms ignores the effect of inflation. Factoring that in, flood defence spending is down if you base it on the current spending review plans, and pretty much exactly the same comparing the years each government was in office.

Some of this is based on spending plans rather than actual money that's been spent already. The Prime Minister announced today that a further £100 million was being made available for repairs and maintenance of flood defences, so the figures for future years are as yet still subject to change.

Update: 6 February 2013

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles - standing in for the Environment Secretary - has today announced updated funding figures for the rest of this financial year. £130 million extra is being committed, £30 million extra for this year and £100 million for the next year. This means that slightly more is being spent in real terms if you compare the first four years of this government to the last four of Labour, but it's still a real-terms fall comparing from the latest Spending Review.

For now, then, the timeframe you choose to look at has a big impact on what trend the figures are following. We'll have to wait to hear more details of the government's funding plans.

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