March 25: Time to face up to flooding facts

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TODAY’S critical report on flood defences is not the first on the subject. Nor will it be the last – this is now a recurring issue as communities look for additional protection. Yet, while it is widely accepted that the Government does not have a bottomless pit of money, this difficult situation is being made worse by the convoluted working relationship between Defra, the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners.

This is not helpful. As Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee makes clear, there needs to be far closer co-operation – and policy co-ordination – at all levels to guarantee the maximum use of limited resources and also to ensure that the law of unintended consequences does not come into play.

This is where decisions, like a landowner being allowed to remove an earth bund as part of property improvements, actually exacerbated the likelihood of flooding further downstream – implications for the whole river catchment area need to be considered before such decisions are taken in the future.

That the Environment Agency only has responsibility, under current arrangements, for 45 per cent of flood defences does not inspire total confidence – this issue requires far greater leadership and also a change of mindset on the part of national politicians. As The Yorkshire Post’s general election manifesto makes clear, funding has been compromised because politicians regard the issue as an easy target for cuts. This approach could not be more short-sighted.

With five million properties in England – one in six of all homes and business premises – said to be at risk of flooding from coastal, river and surface water, the next Government should – as our manifesto states – “see flood defences as infrastructure as important as new roads and railways”. Today’s report only strengthens this case.

Health warning

NHS is not a political football

IN THE most uncertain election for a generation, there is one certainty – the NHS will be an emotive issue brought to life by individual stories like the “Jennifer’s Ear” row which dominated the 1992 election, or Dewsbury mother Carol Maddocks haranguing a near- speechless Tony Blair in 2001 over a shortage of bone marrow donors that was endangering the life of her daughter Alice.

This has been self-evident in the tetchy stand-off between the Tories and Labour over which party will deliver the most funding to the NHS. The promises made by both will need to carry the proverbial health warning; extra money for hospitals, for example, could be offset by cuts to town hall budgets that impinge upon elderly care further down the line.

It is why the British Medical Association’s intervention is so pertinent. It is worried that headline-grabbing initiatives, such as extra money to prop up A&E services, are being used as sticking plaster solutions when radical surgery is required to ensure that hospitals can meet the demands of patients without emergency handouts.

Given that much of this money does not actually reach the NHS front line and becomes lost in Leeds-based NHS England’s unfathomable bureaucracy, there is even more merit to the BMA’s plea to politicians to stop playing games with emergency care and to start coming up with long-term remedies. The challenge is making this happen in a culture where decision-making has become too short-termist for its own good, and which continues to treat the National Health Service like a political football.

Identifying trouble

Changing face of internet crime

IN NORMAL events, a 38 per cent increase in a specific crime would be regarded as trouble – particularly on the eve of an election. However the fact that the number of identity-related offences has risen by more than one third in Yorkshire can be attributed, in part, to increased public awareness about this phenomenon.

As well as highlighting the need for continued vigilance as more transactions are conducted online, it is another reminder about

the need for police forces

to have sufficient resources to bring fraudsters to justice. It is why West Yorkshire Police has become one of the first forces to appoint a specialist team of “cyber cops” – identity theft is not a victimless crime.

If this means forces recruiting more computer experts in the future, chief constables should not hesitate to do so – they need to use every means at their disposal to apprehend those crooks intent on defrauding the unwitting and those still naive when it comes to computers and banking.