Thursday, 20 February 2014

Cameron says "money is no object" - really?

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian focused on the Government response to the devastating storms and floods that have hit Cornwall and elsewhere. It was as follows:

Last week, David Cameron insisted that, when it comes to dealing with the recent storms and the flooding, "money is no object."

His exact words were: "Nothing is more important than dealing with these floods. Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it, it will be spent. We will take whatever steps are necessary.”

It is to be welcomed that central government has allocated an additional £130 million to deal with the damage caused by the bad weather.

And the speed with which repairs are being carried out on the damaged railway line at Dawlish must also be welcomed, with the Prime Minister promising investigations into further rail improvements.

The announcement of changes to the Bellwin scheme (which partially recompenses councils after they have carried out emergency repairs following exceptional weather) will also mean extra resources to local authorities, though much of the detail is still quite sketchy.

There certainly appears to be a willingness to cover “costs incurred during the current emergency response and recovery,” but there is less certainty about the level of Government support for capital works to repair structural damage in the long-term.

Indeed, less than 24 hours after the Prime Minister pledged "money is no object," sources from Number 10 stated that his comments “did not mean extra money would be found.” They stated that, instead, “Whitehall departments would be expected to find money … from their existing budgets.” His Transport Secretary said that there would be no "blank cheque.”

It is my view that central government needs to clear up this uncertainty as a matter of urgency, and to put its money where its mouth is.

Further to this, in my column last week, I was extremely critical of the Government’s failure prior to the floods to invest in rail improvements for Cornwall and the wider South West.

Following on from my comments, my attention was drawn to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (North). The thinktank has calculated the regional impact of central government’s planned expenditure spending on large-scale transport projects. It showed that Londoners are receiving public investment in transport of £2,596 per head while, by comparison, in the North East of England it is only £5 per person. In the South West, the investment is just £17.58 per head.

Such inequity in investment simply cannot be allowed to continue.

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