Flood Recovery Funding

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the funding for flood recovery in Northern Ireland announced on 8 November 2023.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The floods have seen devastating consequences for businesses and households, so the Government have worked hard to come forward with a substantial package that is consistent with our approach across the UK. In the absence of an Executive, we are making up to £15 million of support available through the reallocation of existing Northern Ireland funding. We have worked closely with colleagues in the Northern Ireland civil service and the Treasury to ensure that the Northern Ireland civil service and local councils can provide affected businesses with the support they need.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I thank the Minister for that response. He will know that there are real concerns about whether that funding is adequate—I think he will hear about that in a moment—but can I ask about future adaptation and prevention? Such floods are often talked about as a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-lifetime experience, but we know that is not the case from England and that the communities will need protection for future occurrences.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Member is absolutely right to raise that. She will know that such matters are mostly for the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. That is why we are so keen to get the finances on a sustainable basis and achieve the long-term change that is needed. That, of course, includes having a strategic plan for adaptation. I hope to have the opportunity in this role to work with a Northern Ireland Executive to those ends.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I join the Secretary of State in his remarks about all those who lost their lives in the terrible Birmingham pub bombings. We remember them.

Last week, in Downpatrick, Newry and Portadown, I saw the terrible effects of the flooding on businesses and households, many of whom cannot get flood insurance and therefore face huge losses. Can the Minister assure us that once the initial £7,500 has been paid out to all businesses from the money that the Secretary of State announced during his visit, the Treasury will approve proposals for the use of the rest of the money quickly so that businesses affected can receive help and get back up and running again? If more is needed, will he provide it?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The rest of the money is within the power of the Northern Ireland civil service to spend, because it is reallocated funding. Alas, the Treasury is not under my control—all I can say is that I look forward to the day.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I thank the Minister for that answer. Traders will expect to see the money spent. There will have to be a review of what happened during the floods to learn lessons for the future, including things such as the need for a warning system—there is not currently one in Northern Ireland—better flood defences, and flood protection, which will all need funding in the years ahead. In the continuing absence of the Executive, which is really needed at a time like this, does the Minister agree that there should be a review? Does the Northern Ireland civil service have the power to establish such a review? If not, will the Secretary of State do it?

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a review is needed. I believe that it is possible for the Northern Ireland civil service to get on with that work under the powers that we have given it. If it transpires that that is not the case, I will write to him and put a copy of the letter in the Library. He is right—the insights he provides are wise and necessary—that we all want to work together to see a restored Executive, because it is for Northern Ireland Ministers to work with their Department for Infrastructure to deal with such matters.