Buck must stop with Ministers

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THAT Britain is now seventh in a list of countries most susceptible to flooding will not surprise all those people whose homes and businesses have been ruined in recent times.

THAT Britain is now seventh in a list of countries most susceptible to flooding will not surprise all those people whose homes and businesses have been ruined in recent times.

For many, the misery is only just beginning – it will take many weeks, if not months, before they can settle insurance claims and undertake the necessary repairs.

Yet some will be surprised that Britain is so high on the list of vulnerable nations.

Even though Britain is an island country protected by stunning coast-line, it is still a relatively small nation in comparison to, say, the United States, France or Australia.

However it is the proximity of major industrial areas to the sea, or rising rivers, that contributes to the high ranking in the fourth annual Natural Hazards Risk Atlas.

The warning could not be more timely as the latest battle of political wills over climate change threatens to detract attention away from efforts to make the whole country, Yorkshire included, more resilient to floods – whether this be a new generation of flood defences or ensuring that the county’s drainage system is robust enough.

As such, three things need to happen in order as politicians spend the half-term recess ingratiating themselves with victims of flooding after failing to put in place adequate contingencies.

First, the Government needs to ensure that victims have every possible assistance – and yesterday’s Downing Street summit reminded the insurance industry about its obligations.

Second, Ministers need to ensure that the current crisis does not compromise the new agreement that it has just reached with the insurance industry. The need for affordable premiums is now even greater.

Third, there needs to be a debate about the effectiveness of the Environment Agency, 
and whether sufficient money is being spent on the dredging of rivers, new defences or the flood-proofing of proposed housing developments.

On this point, Sir Bernard Ingham makes some trenchant points on the opposite page – the buck does now need to stop with Ministers.

A problem for all

Ending a culture of worklessness

IAIN Duncan Smith has already admitted that perseverance is crucial if his “make work pay” agenda is to lead to a long-term reduction in welfare spending. He knows it will take time, and patience, to change the mindset in those households where a costly culture of worklessness has been allowed to become ingrained.

This is reflected by the fact that just 19 out of the 1,000 most “troubled families” in Yorkshire’s largest city have found work thanks to a council-led, Government-backed policy of intervention that targets resources at those homes deemed most likely to be the cause of social disharmony.

Thus far, the record in Leeds in terms of helping these people back into work appears unimpressive. But, on the other hand, it clearly vindicates the Work and Pensions Secretary when he warns that change will not happen overnight.

And the initial signs are still encouraging. Children of many of the targeted parents have started attending school on a more frequent basis – education is critical to the success

of this resource-intense policy – and there appears to have been a decline in anti-social behaviour, another barrier to the social re-invention of deprived areas.

Certainly it would be self-defeating if Leeds and other councils gave up now because the rewards were being elusive or because of the financial challenges confronting local government, with Bradford Council, for example, announcing £54m of cuts yesterday and also the possibility of 650 job losses.

Like Tony Blair before them, this Government has recognised the truism that a tiny number of families are the biggest burden to society and appreciates the value of targeted help.

But today’s findings are a reminder that it will take a generation before some families grasp the importance of education, and how a wide set of skills holds the key to future employment prospects.

Life means life

A legal victory for human decency

AT last a victory for common sense with the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the principle of “life-means-life”. Its importance cannot be under-estimated on two counts.

First, it means that some of Britain’s most violent individuals will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. This reassurance will be welcomed by all.

Second, this rebuke of the European Court of Human Rights confirms that sentencing policy is a matter for this country, and not Brussels.

Yet this should not preclude legislators, and the judiciary, from looking to introduce greater transparency. For, while whole-life tariffs will only apply to a handful of murderers and sex offenders, there is still that the life sentences handed down by crown courts are nothing of the sort.

If public confidence is to be retained and the rights of victims respected, a familiar refrain of politicians at election time, then there needs to be far more clarity at sentencing about the minimum period of time that a convicted criminal can expect to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.