FMQs: UK Treasury ordered Welsh Government to repay £200million before flood relief request

As you might expect, this afternoon’s First Minister’s Questions was dominated by the flooding of the last few weeks. AMs will be updated on a recent flood summit later this afternoon (more on that tomorrow) and I’ll have an editorial piece on this later as well.

Emergency services and communities praised for flood reaction

Leader of the Oppostion, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) – while praising the response to the floods – wondered what lessons could be learned from them. There have been particular concerns around the coordination of responses and, in some communities, flooding may not be seen as high enough a priority as it should be.

Naturally, the First Minister didn’t draw the same conclusions. The emergency response command system worked and a new flood prevention strategy – which went out for consultation in 2019 – is due to be published “shortly”. There was also no secrecy over where and how much the Welsh Government was spending on flood prevention.

“Whenever a scheme is agreed – £44million in the south-west recently – then we publish those schemes, and we publish the amounts of money associated with them because we are very keen that people in Wales can see how the £350million that is being spent over this Assembly term is being used to protect them from the effects of river and coastal flooding.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

UK Government asked for money back before storms after shifting Barnett formula goalposts

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) wanted to drill down into the financial impact of the storms, with the cost in Rhondda Cynon Taf alone having been estimated at £180million.

The Welsh Government has made £10million immediately available but was the First Minister confident there was enough funding in reserve, and for organisations such as Natural Resources Wales, to deal with the rest of the damage?

The First Minister believes it’s too soon to put a figure on the costs involved, though RCT’s estimate “wasn’t unreasonable”. When turning to the recent request for UK Government flood relief, the First Minister dropped this bombshell:

“Part of the reason why we are having to ask the UK Government for assistance is because, with six weeks of this financial year left, the UK Treasury wrote to us requiring us to repay to them £100million of financial transactions capital, and £100 million of conventional capital, before the end of this financial year (April 2020). They said that they had recalculated Barnett consequentials and that that money needed to be returned to them.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

Where responsibility lies

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) concentrated on lines of accountability and where responsibility lies, suggesting the role of local government, Natural Resources Wales and coal authorities (with regard to coal tips) was blurred. He also suggested that asking for more money from the UK Government following a disaster showed the danger of demanding more powers and devolution.

The First Minister rejected the idea:

“As far as help from the Treasury is concerned, I think we are already acting in a way that is consistent with rules that have been established over many years. When a completely unforeseeable event happens, and it happens on a scale of the sort that we saw this weekend….and costs are commensurately high, the ability to go to the UK Treasury for help from reserves is one we’ve used before, and we’re using it again here.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

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