The Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 requires ministers and others to promote sustainable flood management, both to reduce flooding risk and to protect the environment. We are preparing guidance on flooding issues with the assistance of a national technical advisory group, and that guidance will be issued next year.
Is the minister aware that the Executive is delivering the Scottish Environment Protection Agency a resource cut of £20 million over four years? Will he—or can he—guarantee that that will not have an adverse effect on the implementation and monitoring of the water framework directive, which is of substantial concern to the RSPB?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's concern in those areas is well known, as is that of the RSPB. I assure him that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will be funded and resourced in such a way as to allow it to meet its requirements. It will, of course, have to set priorities for how it does that, identify the areas in which there is the greatest risk and deal with those areas first with a view to full implementation of the water framework directive in due time.
I draw to the minister's attention the fact that the City of Edinburgh Council is seeking to progress two essential flood prevention schemes on the Water of Leith and the Braid burn. Will the minister assure me that sufficient funding will be in place to fund all the flood prevention schemes that have been identified and will he confirm that local authorities will be able to fund their proportion of the costs through the prudential framework?
Sarah Boyack will be aware that the funding that has been made available to local authorities for that purpose has been significantly increased and now runs at the rate of £89 million over the funding review period to 2008, and that the grant rate has been increased to 80 per cent. At this juncture, it would not be appropriate for me to give a guarantee on any specific scheme, because each scheme that is proposed is the responsibility of the relevant local authority and must meet the criteria that have been set. However, we expect that the available funding will allow local authorities to do a significant amount of work on flood prevention.
I refer the minister to a severe flooding incident that took place just over a year ago in the Borders, in the Bannerfield area of Selkirk. Many houses, which had been transferred from the local authority to a housing association, were severely damaged. As the minister is aware, the Bellwin scheme, which provides local authorities with finances to help with repairs under those circumstances, is not available to housing associations. Given the stock transfers that have taken place, will the minister consider extending the Bellwin scheme to housing associations, so that they, too, can access its funds?
I do not think that that is particularly a matter for me, although it is clearly a matter for the Executive to consider generally. The Bellwin scheme is designed for a purpose. The rules exist to ensure that those schemes that meet the criteria for support under the scheme are the ones that are supported. That is the proper way to go forward.