Ministers ‘ignore’ call to aid firms hit by floods

Hundreds of businesses were hit by last winter's floods
Hundreds of businesses were hit by last winter's floods
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Ministers appear to have ignored the calls of flood-hit communities and politicians across the region after indicating they have no plans to set up a subsidised insurance scheme for businesses.

Following last year's devastating storms, the Government has faced mounting pressure to extend the new Flood Re insurance scheme for homeowners to small and medium companies struggling to find cover.

However, in an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post, flooding minister Theresa Coffey looks to have ruled the option out, claiming the model would be “unsuitable” for business.

She has instead urged companies to explore other existing insurance schemes, while assuring them that the Government will continue to “monitor” the situation.

It is estimated that more than 1,600 Yorkshire business were caught up in the chaos of last winter's storms, which saw parts of Leeds inundated with flood water.

According to Phil Marken, founder of the Kirkstall Resilient Business Network, this has left many local companies facing higher insurance premiums - or being denied coverage altogether.

He says it also means affected areas, like Kirkstall, are now seen as “risky” places to do business,

“A lot of people are relocating out of the area, or simply closing down the business and selling,” he said.

Many business leaders and politicians have responded to this challenge by calling on the Government to extend its Flood Re scheme to commercial properties.

The programme - a collaboration between Government and industry - charges participating insurers a premium in exchange for agreeing to reimburse flood claims.

The shadow Defra minister and York MP Rachael Maskell has previously stated that there is “no doubt” that many businesses see this as a solution.

However, when asked whether ministers would consider extending the scheme, Dr Coffrey told this paper that the proposals were “not suitable”.

“A similar scheme for businesses - where businesses subsidise each other on the basis of their insurance - that would be a big change. Unprecedented in fact,” she said.

“We have been monitoring this particular situation, but I do encourage people to take advantage of the new products being launched.

“Just this month the British Insurance Brokers’ Association launched a new commercial insurance scheme for businesses that includes flood cover.

“We would encourage people to look at that and take that up.”

The minister went on to express “regret and sadness” that a number of families are still waiting to homes one year on from the floods.

But she stressed that the “majority of people” left homeless by the storms have now moved back into their properties.

She also made it clear that the Government is not complacent about the work that still needs to be done, including progressing phase two of the Leeds flood alleviation scheme.

But she stated she was “confident” that after millions of pounds worth of additional investment, the region is “better prepared” for the coming winter.

Ms Maskell, who represents York Central, agreed that significant progress has been made toward improving the region's flood resilience, particularly around the Foss barrier.

However, she pointed out that she had to “fight” the Government over plans to upgrade the barrier's pumps, after it emerged officials were only aiming to increase capacity to 40 tonnes a second.

“That was the equivalent of the amount of water that came down on Boxing Day last year. If we had anything that went above that the Foss barrier wouldn't be able to cope,” she explained.

“It will be able to go now to 50 tonnes a second. That's been an important win to build confidence in the city again.”