A further £2.3 billion has been earmarked for new flood defences across the country, just days after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne ruled out introducing new tax breaks in his Autumn Statement, due tomorrow, claiming that he had no money left to give away. The announcement follows commitments made in the last few days to spend £15 billion on the roads, and a further £2 billion a year on the NHS.
The new flood defence funding will be used to green-light more than 1,400 projects, including £15.5 million for new defences in Somerset over the next six years, of which £4.2 million will be spent on better protecting the Somerset levels which were submerged last year after flood defences were neglected for two decades in the name of environmentalism.
The Humber estuary is in line for an £80 million flood defence program, whilst £196 million will be spend on protecting homes and business in the Thames estuary, according to the Daily Mail. In total, some 300,000 homes will be better protected. Treasury bosses calculate that the six year spending package will prevent £30 billion worth of damage through avoiding flooding events.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “We all saw the destruction and heartache caused by flooding last year and that is why this investment is vital to build up Britain’s defences for the future.
“The projects we are announcing today will protect some of the country’s most at-risk locations, ensuring that we will be as prepared as possible for future severe weather.”
Other projects will include a £17 million scheme designed to protect Tonbridge, Yalding, and surrounding locations in Kent; £72 million for the Boston barrier, located in Lincolnshire, £42 million to better protect Oxford and £47 million for coastal flooding protection in Rossall, Lancashire.
Green campaigners have criticised the plans for not going far enough. Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth said “these leaked plans show that Mr Osborne isn’t taking the threat of climate change seriously: having foolishly neglected defences over the last Parliament, he’s proposing to do the same over the next one. The Chancellor must use his Autumn Statement to invest enough in flood defences to keep pace with global warming, and redouble efforts to wean the economy off flood-inducing fossil fuels.”
But fiscal conservatives are critical of the government’s spending spree, particularly in light of Osborne’s claims that the cupboard is bare when it comes to tax cuts. A report released over the weekend showed that the government would be borrowing £9 billion more this year than planned.
Speaking to Andrew Marr on his BBC show this Sunday, Osborne said that there would be no tax breaks announced in his Autumn Statement tomorrow because Britain had to “stay the course to prosperity”.
“What you’re going to see is me avoiding the mistakes of Labour chancellors before elections with unfunded giveaways that lead to economic problems after the election,” he said.
But the Institute for Economic Affairs has criticised the government for allowing the tax regime to remain overly complicated, and for not doing enough to cut public spending. Ryan Bourne of the IEA said “High marginal tax rates have meant that individuals on low incomes are finding themselves with little incentive to progress into higher paying jobs. Even with the implementation of Universal Credit, which will eliminate the most severe cases, family households on low-middle incomes could still encounter marginal tax rates as high as 76 percent.”
And commenting on government spending, he commented that “significant cuts to public spending are needed to facilitate tax reform. Reducing government spending to between 30 – 33 percent of GDP would facilitate lower marginal tax rates across all income levels.”