YP Comment: PM’s pious words over flooding

David Cameron meets soldiers in York.
David Cameron meets soldiers in York.
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DAVID CAMERON’S pious words on flooding in his New Year message do not inspire confidence at the end of a traumatic week which has seen this county, and the rest of the North, in the global spotlight as homes and businesses count the rising cost of this disaster.

They smack of a Prime Minister who has learned little from a supposedly goodwill visit to a submerged York which became overshadowed by reports about the extent to which the Tory leader was shielded from actual victims of flooding who might have spoiled Downing Street’s choreographed imagery of Mr Cameron wading through filthy floodwater with the rescue services.

Instead of rolling up his sleeves, and telling stricken communities what the Government will do when Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday, Mr Cameron appears to be in denial about the scale of a catastrophe. This is what he, or one of his minions, wrote: “Because of our competent management of the economy, we are not only able to fund the necessary flood defences, emergency services and support; we can actually be flexible about what we spend and where we spend it.”

Really? Try telling that, Prime Minister, to the people of Leeds whose properties were wrecked because your Government pulled the plug on the city’s flood defence scheme in 2011 so more resources could be poured into protecting the Thames Valley. Or those weather-beaten residents of Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Mytholmroyd, Selby, Tadcaster, York and elsewhere whose existence has become a living hell because of the frequency of the floods – and the failure of successive governments to protect vulnerable areas with effective defences or better management of rivers. If the economy had been well-handled, and money diverted from Britain’s profligate £12bn overseas aid budget to shoring up this country’s flood defences, Mr Cameron might be able to defend his record without making such fatuous statements.

This complacency explains why the editorials of The Yorkshire Post, and its sister title, have been so trenchant in their criticism of the Government – criticism which even made the respected columns of internationally-renowned publications like the New York Times. With Labour’s response totally ineffectual and the complete absence of a coherent strategy to protect flood-threatened areas from such extreme weather, it falls to us, and others, to stand up for this region and ensure that the safety of its residents is not put at undue risk by spending decisions biased in favour of the South.

More fundamentally, a failure to speak out would have betrayed all those countless community groups and volunteers who came to the aid of the flooding victims. They, and not Britain’s posturing political elite, are the heroes of the past seven days. The very least that the Government can do is acknowledge these herculean efforts, ensure its £100m emergency fund reaches those most in need without becoming bogged down by bureaucracy and come up with a new flood-risk strategy for the whole of Yorkshire by the end of this month. Anything less will be a dereliction of duty and make a mockery of Mr Cameron’s promise to govern as a One Nation premier.

Care conundrum: ‘Bed-blocking’ takes its toll on NHS

IF it wasn’t for this unseasonably mild winter, one exacerbating factor when it comes to the floods, there’s every likelihood that the NHS beds crisis would be dominating the political landscape. The Tory party’s Achilles’ heel for decades, Ministers are fortunate that the hospitals have, until now, been able to cope with the traditional upsurge in admissions at this time of the year.

Yet, while the Government will probably attribute this to foresight on its part, the fact remains that hospitals cannot perform at their optimum because of inherent delays when it comes to discharging those elderly and immobile patients who need support either in their own home or residential care.

This is not their fault. They, too, are exasperated with this state of affairs and do not like being blamed for a policy breakdown beyond their control. However, with one third of beds occupied by patients who should not be in hospital under normal circumstances, and ‘bed-blocking’ now costing this region’s hospitals £32m a year at a time of financial hardship, the need for closer correlation between the NHS and community care providers has never been greater.

However, it is difficult to envisage this happening when the increase in NHS spending is more than offset by cuts to town hall spending on social care. These are so serious that the proposed two per cent increase in council tax precepts to fund this shortfall is already regarded as a sticking plaster solution rather than a sustainable long-term prescription.