UK flooding: George Osborne and David Cameron accused of increasing the 'human misery' caused by Storm Frank

Claims by the PM and Chancellor that they have increased spending on flood defences over the course of their time in office is 'deception', says Oxford University economic professor 

George Osborne and David Cameron have been accused of increasing the “damage and human misery” caused by the floods that have hit large parts of the UK due to cuts to local authorities and initial coalition cutbacks in flood defence spending. 

Storm Frank has made hundreds of people homeless across northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and around 1,400 homes have lost power in Wales. 

Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron insist they have increased spending on flood defences over the course of their time in office but Simon Wren-Lewis, an economic policy professor at Oxford University, said these statements deceived the public because their decision to initially cut back spending on flood prevention as part of their austerity agenda in 2011 had blocked vital investment that could have defended cities such as York and Leeds from the level of devastation seen over the Christmas period. 

Figures released by the House of Commons library earlier this week showed that the Government had decreased spending on flood defences by 20 per cent since Mr Cameron came to power in 2010. 

Mr Wren-Lewis wrote on his blog that although it would be “nonsense” to suggest there would have been no flooding over the last five years under a different government, it would be “equally nonsense to deny that Osborne/Cameron policies have significantly increased the damage and human misery caused by these floods”. 

“What you would really expect is to see spending at a much higher level,” he added. 

“It doesn’t seem like the same kind of reaction which we know has happened to the threat of terrorism, where we know spending levels have increased by a large magnitude.”

“You [the Government] just cut everything by a fixed amount because you haven’t the time or the inclination to think about it.”

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, has also hit out at the Government for pursuing a short-term approach to flood spending and has called for an independent review in order to take the politics out of flood policy. 

“The under-investment in flood defences is another and sadly more obvious example of this Government’s short-term approach to infrastructure spending where it literally has not fixed the walls and embankments while the sun was shining,” he said, using one of Mr Osborne’s favourite catch phrases against him. 

Jeremy Corbyn will visit flood hit York and Leeds on Thursday and will demand answers from the Environment Agency over its decision not to deploy its state-of-the-art pumps in the worst affected areas. 

The pumps were tested successfully in September but have not been used, despite parts of northern England witnessing some of the worst flooding in decades. 

Ahead of his visit, the Labour leader said: “I will raise with them why they have failed to deploy these brand new pumps that look as if they could have helped significantly in alleviating some of the worst impacts of the floods in the north of England.”

Explaining how Mr Osborne had indiscriminately cut flood defence spending in his first year as Chancellor, Mr Wren-Lewis wrote: "The Labour government responded [to the 2007 Pitt review] by greatly increasing their spending on flood defences, in the spending review which ended in 2010/11. 

"In contrast Osborne demanded and obtained sharp cuts in 2011/12 and beyond. Only the arrival of floods dragged those numbers up in later years. Ministers can play around with dates as much as they like to try and tell a different story, but the evidence for those cuts is there in the data.

"Every news report that allows ministers to claim they did not cut spending on flood defences is complicit in deception," he added. 

Mr Cameron visited flood-hit areas on Monday, where he was heckled by a woman shouting: “no more cuts to public services”. 

But he defended his record on flood defence spending and pledged to spend "even more" over the next five years. 

And he batted away criticism that he had neglected the North compared to the South, insisting that the Government had dedicated more money per head of the population to the north. 

A Treasury spokesman said: “We are not cutting investment in flood defences. Spending over the last parliament was higher than in the 2005-2010 parliament and will be higher still in this parliament.”

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