MPs: Flooding responsibility question-marks are unacceptable

The public accounts committee's chair Margaret Hodge explains the thinking behind its report on flood management:

"Five million properties in England – one in six – are currently at risk of flooding. The annual cost of flood damage is at least £1.1 billion and ageing defences and climate change will increase that bill. So flood protection is a national priority.

"Yet it is unclear where the buck stops and who is ultimately responsible for managing the risk of flooding. There is also a great deal of uncertainty about whether there will be enough money to maintain and improve flood protection in the longer term, and who will pay.

"The department tells us that it is not ultimately answerable and shares the responsibility with the Environment Agency and local bodies. But the eepartment has no way of knowing whether local flood management systems are adequate or when it should step in.

"It is not acceptable that local people should be left in doubt about where responsibility and accountability lie.

"There is a big mismatch between what the Agency reckons it needs to maintain current levels of flood protection and the budget being made available. The department sees more funding coming from local sources – including businesses and local authorities. We are sceptical that this will be possible when local authorities and businesses are themselves under financial pressure.

"All of this is fuelling uncertainty over the future availability and affordability of insurance cover for buildings in areas at risk of flood. The current agreement between the government and the insurance industry runs out in 2013. A new agreement is needed urgently."