“There are always lessons to be learned and I will make sure they are learned,” said David Cameron after severe flooding affected thousands of people across the country. But that was in February 2014, when the prime minister was visiting the submerged Somerset Levels. No systematic review of flood protection ever happened.
On Sunday, as terrible floods hit Yorkshire and Lancashire, Cameron said: “Whenever these things happen, you should look at what you spend, what you’ve built … clearly we should look again at whether there’s more we can do.”
Cameron cannot say he was not warned: he has ignored red flag after red flag, right from the start of his premiership. In the first year of the coalition, he cut capital spending on flood defences by 27% year-on-year. That was despite the 2008 Pitt Review – a systematic analysis of major floods in 2007 – concluding that much more funding was needed. Funding had risen quickly under the Labour government, only to be slashed by Cameron.
The prime minister himself had expressed the risks. “Most people accept that, with climate change, [floods] are likely to be more frequent,” he told parliament in May 2008, following flooding in his Oxfordshire constituency.
Flood defence spending never recovered to the level inherited from Labour during the whole coalition parliament, if you exclude – as the National Audit Office deems appropriate – the emergency funding delivered after flooding 2013-14.
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