Tim Farron has rightly been preoccupied with helping his constituents with the aftermath of the terrible flooding which has hit his Cumbria constituency.
Tim Farron has rightly been preoccupied with helping his constituents with the aftermath of the terrible flooding which has hit his Cumbria constituency. His most recent initiative is to ask the Government to extend the Flood Re scheme, which will give insurance protection to home-owners in areas at risk from flooding, to small businesses from April next year.
He cites 125,000 businesses which have either been refused cover completely or quoted an unaffordable price for insurance.
Tim said: "As devastating as the floods have been for home owners here in Cumbria, it has been equally catastrophic for the small businesses which are the backbone of our local economy. With the impact of climate change this isn’t going to be the last time communities are hit by flooding and it will become more and more difficult for small businesses to get affordable insurance. The Government needs to get serious about the situation we are in and extend the Flood Re scheme to small businesses, before even more see their businesses devastated by the financial cost of flooding."
His whole speech in the Climate Change and flooding debate is worth reading. In it he touches on the need for greater support in every way for people who have been effected by the flooding – from more financial help to counselling and better mental health services. As ever, he shows a real, practical understanding and empathy for what his neighbours are going through. He also takes the Minister to task for saying that a particular road was passable when it clearly wasn’t, because he had been there the day before.
"Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Colleagues from all parts of the House are rightly praising the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for her role in Paris. I do not have time to go into that at great length, except to say that she did indeed play a blinder, as did this country as a whole. However, it is very difficult to stack up her signing the agreement in Paris with her slashing subsidies for renewables, ending the green deal and privatising the green investment bank. The Secretary of State is perhaps, if she will forgive me, the José Mourinho of environmental politics—impressive on the international stage, woeful domestically.
Climate change is clearly not an esoteric matter, although some would consider it to be so. The impact on my constituency, throughout my county and on other places is very real. The impact on the families who will be out of their homes at Christmas—the hundreds upon hundreds of children who are not able to look forward to Christmas at home—is utterly heart-breaking. I want us to think, first and foremost, about the human cost. Among the things that I am seeking from the Government is additional support for Cumbria’s health and social services to support mental health provision and counselling for people in desperate, desperate need.
I praise the response not just of the emergency services, which have been absolutely fantastic, but of organisations such as Kendal Cares and the churches in the south Lakeland area. The response can absolutely reassure us about human nature, as people who had lost almost everything went next door to help people who had lost absolutely everything.
The scale of the floods needs to be put in a numerical sense. PricewaterhouseCoopers reckons that the cost of the floods to Cumbria is £500 million. Therefore, the Government support of £50 million, although welcome, is clearly nowhere near enough. In the few moments available to me, I will set out why we need additional support and ask for it.
There are some who will dismiss people who are uninsured or underinsured as feckless. They are not feckless; they are penniless. Very often, these are people who could not afford insurance in the first place or who could afford only insurance that was cheap and, therefore, inadequate. There are many people who live in areas that flood regularly and who, therefore, could not get coverage in the first place.
The £500 grants from the Cumbria Community Foundation are utterly welcome and I praise it, but £500 will not get people far if we consider what we would lose if the ground floor of our homes flooded—all the white goods and all the other things we need to make life possible. We need support so that the £500 can be increased significantly.
We need to recognise that the £5,000 per household that the Government are promising is for flood prevention in the future, not to help people who have lost significant amounts of money right now. That money should be delivered to people in Cumbria right away and directly.
I reiterate my comment about the A591. To those who heard the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs say earlier that it was passable in a 4×4, I say that I was there yesterday and it could just about be passed on a bicycle. It is not true.
John Stevenson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the priorities in the long run, beyond the work on the A591 and Pooley bridge, must be to invest in and renew our road infrastructure in Cumbria?
Tim Farron: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. He is doing an excellent job for his constituents in Carlisle. He is right that the investment now will help the county in the long run. I ask the Government to invest in making sure that the A591 is rebuilt and reopened in a matter of weeks, not months, because the current situation is devastating for the local economy.
There is also a plan on the table from Cumbria Tourism that the Government need to provide funding for right now. There is a short-term, immediate strategy—as in, today—to boost the economy up to Christmas through a marketing campaign and a medium-term campaign to make sure we get back on our feet.
Other parts of the Lake district have been hugely hit. The village of Staveley has been cut in two by the closure of its bridge. Again, we need support for that in weeks, not months. Likewise, the bridge that connects the two communities at Backbarrow, which was lost six years ago in 2009, is closed again and needs investment straight away to make sure it is reopened.
It is important that people get the message, and that the Government get out the message that Cumbria is open for business. I was in Grasmere yesterday. I cannot think of a more Christmassy place to be at this moment, but equally I cannot think of a quieter place. People are not going there because they think the place is closed. It is not. Please go there. Please will the Government get the message out that that is what people need to do?
I have a quick note about farmers. I am very concerned that the Government are planning to close the Lyth valley pumps in June. I was there yesterday and we cannot allow that to happen. Will the Government commit to funding the pumps beyond the end of June? Will they also commit to help farmers who have lost stock in tragic circumstances up and down the county? They must recognise that much of the money that goes into keeping the Lyth valley dry is about protecting infrastructure, which the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) mentioned. The A590 is often flooded as a consequence of that farmland not being drained, so the pumps are important for infrastructure too.
I want to make a final point about the long-termism that is needed. We often hear the phrase “long-term economic plan”. The problem is that we had an autumn statement recently in which the Chancellor pulled out of his hat lots of white rabbits, but none of those white rabbits were for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Department for Communities and Local Government. The three Departments that we desperately need to be on the frontline to protect people in Cumbria are massively denuded. We have local authorities—South Lakeland District Council, Cumbria County Council and others—working very hard and doing a very good job, but with about 20% less people and resources than they had six years ago. It is therefore vital that the Government commit to providing the £500 million that PricewaterhouseCoopers has identified so that we can rebuild our communities, support our damaged people and communities, get people back in their homes, and do so quickly."
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings