Devastating floods hit the North of England and Southern Scotland this weekend, wreaking havoc. Provisional figures suggest more than 340mm of rain fell in 24 hours in the Lake District. The current record is 316.4mm of rain over the same time period in 2009. New flood defences in the North West, put in place after the 2009 floods, were unable to cope with the deluge caused by storm Desmond.
Further damage caused by the floodwaters will come to light in the coming days and weeks as communities and businesses count the cost of another overwhelming natural disaster. Huge infrastructural damage to roads, railway lines, bridges and electricity sub stations will need to be repaired as quickly as possible to prevent further economic losses to businesses and disruption to all. The cost of repairs will most likely run in to hundreds of millions of pounds. To help ease the financial strain the UK Government should take advantage of the European Union Solidarity Fund.
The EU Solidarity Fund was set up to respond to major natural disasters. As a member of the European Union the UK is entitled to apply for funds that can be used to pay for emergency repairs to gas, water, electricity and telephone services as well as general cleaning up.
Since its creation in 2002, the Fund has been used for 70 disasters across the EU covering a range of different events including floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought. The UK has benefitted from the Fund in the past; in 2007 we received £120m from the Fund when 48,000 homes and 7,000 businesses were flooded in the south west of England, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside. At the time it was one of the largest ever payments made, a fact recognised by Labour's Yorkshire and Humberside MEP Linda McAvan.
In 2007 it took seven months for the money to be approved and allocated. That is why it is important that the UK government does not delay in applying to the Fund. The government should recognise that the EU Solidarity Fund is there in times of need, such as this. If the UK pays into what is in reality an insurance scheme then we are entitled to draw down from it when it is needed. Labour hopes that the Conservative Government won't see applying for the Funds as some kind of weakness or worse, be discouraged from applying by those Eurosceptics who see all things EU as intrinsically bad. Not to apply for help from the Solidarity Fund would be a mistake and would likely be heavily criticised by those most impacted by the flooding.