Does the government spend more on flood defences for the south?

Richard Partington
Photograph: Jorge Duarte Estevao/Alamy

Claim Jeremy Corbyn has said the government’s spending on flood defences until 2021 “heavily favours London and the south-east of England”.

Background About 5.4m properties in England are at risk of flooding from rivers, the sea and surface water. Annual flood damage costs the country an estimated £1.1bn.

The government earmarked £4.4bn for flood defence, with £2.6bn to be spent between 2015 and 2021 on 1,500 projects to protect 300,000 homes. Ministers say 195,000 homes have already been protected through 500 new schemes completed since 2015.

The government has ramped up spending on flood defences in England since 2010, rising in real terms from about £818m in 2009-10 to £888m in 2018-19. However, funding peaked in 2014-15 at about £950m after heavy winter flooding, and has been lower in every year since.

In a regional spending breakdown, the website Carbon Brief found in 2017 that funding for flood defence per head is highest in London and the south-east, at £116 a head and £180 a head respectively. In contrast, funding in the West Midlands and north-east amounts to £14 and £33 a head.

However, the figures are significantly influenced by long-term funding for Thames estuary projects running up to 2100. Once this is stripped out, Carbon Brief said spending per head up to 2021 was highest in Yorkshire and the Humber, at £54 a head, followed by the south-east at £38.20 a head.

Staff numbers at the Environment Agency have fallen to approximately 10,700 from 13,000 in 2013. However, the agency recently said it had exceeded a target to have 6,500 people trained and ready to respond to incidents, including 700 flood support officers.

The parties are correct to be talking about higher spending requirements because of fears over the climate emergency. Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said £1bn a year on average must be spent in future.

Verdict In absolute terms Labour is right to say that spending is higher in London and the south-east. However, over this spending period to 2021, the party is wrong.