UK & World News
Floods: Concerns Budget Cuts May Hit Response
Government budget cuts - including axing 1,500 Environment Agency jobs - may affect its ability to deal with emergencies such as the current flooding misery, MPs have warned.
The concern comes as Britain was battered by another storm - leading to further flooding in towns and villages in southwest England.
Some £500m has been slashed from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) budget since 2010 and the department is facing further cuts of more than £300m over the next two years.
Parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee says the department's ability to deal with crises such as flooding and the horse-meat scandal must be protected.
The Government has pledged to increase spending on new flood defence schemes to £370m in 2015/2016, with the money ring-fenced.
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However, the Environment Agency (EA), a government body funded by Defra and with a key role in dealing with flooding, is to lose more than 1,500 jobs in the next year.
Committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh said: "Ministers must clarify how further budget cuts over £300m over the next coming two years will impact on the funding provided to these agencies and the ability of the department to respond to emergencies."
She added: "Recent flooding events over the Christmas and New Year period reinforce the committee's concerns about cuts to the Defra budget and how these will be realised."
The Government denies its flood defences will be affected.
Environment Minister George Eustice told Sky News: "Within the spending envelope we have been given we have prioritised flood defence spending - £2.3bn in the last spending period and have secured another £2.3bn in the latest budget round to 2021.
"While there have been hundreds of properties that have been flooded - and that's a tragedy for those involved and I know it's the worst possible thing that can happen to people over Christmas - there have been hundreds of thousands of homes protected by all the infrastructure and investment we have made in flood defences."
But some residents have criticised the EA for not doing enough to protect them as thousands of people were washed out of their homes by heavy rain and overloaded rivers.
Bryony Sadler, who lives in Moorland, Somerset - one of the worst-hit areas - said: "We're all aware that they've done about ten hours work - at the wrong end of the river.
"That's not excusable. It's not going anywhere, no-one's done anything from last year, and you've got to tidy up afterwards - it's the afterwards too."
Mike Gooding, a farmer whose wheat fields have been flooded by the River Thames in north Oxford, said: "The capacity of the river, its ability to hold the volume of water, has diminished over recent years.
"The river is no longer dredged for example - it's not as deep as it was, so the floodwater tops out much easier and the consequences of this are bad for us at the moment, but the consequential problems go on for a number of years after as well."
The country faces more flooding as heavy rain - combined with hail and thunder - and tidal surges continue to batter the southern and southeastern coastline.
The Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning across a large part of southern England, stretching from Somerset to Kent.
It says more heavy showers are on the way - and up to 20mm of rain could fall in some areas.
Rain is falling on already heavily-saturated ground and swollen rivers, giving rise to difficult road conditions and causing delays and cancellations to train services.
Flooding in the Somerset Levels has left villages cut off, roads and buildings have been damaged, and waves of up to 27ft have been recorded at Land's End, the most southern tip of the UK.
A flood siren warning of extreme danger to people and property was sounded in Dorset on Monday night.
The Environment Agency raised the alarm after the sea breached Chesil Beach in Portland.
Jackie Blakespear, landlady at The Cove House Inn, described the evacuation and how 50ft waves crashed over flood defences against the 350-year-old building which she refused to leave.
She told Sky News: "It was a fantastic sight to be fair - scary and exciting all at once. It was very, very scary at some points when the sea actually did come over and hit the pub."
Dorset Police have urged residents to be prepared for flooding and to listen out for the siren.
The Environment Agency has 110 flood warnings in place across the country, including in Dorset, Oxfordshire, south Wiltshire, Hampshire and along the river Thames, and 195 flood alerts.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has 14 flood warnings and six flood alerts in place.
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