General election: Does flood defence spending unfairly favour the South East?

12 November 2019, 15:25 | Updated: 13 November 2019, 09:39

Is the government spending more on flood defences in London and the South East than in the North of England?

That's the accusation from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, who said: "The government's planned spending on flood defences until 2021... heavily favours London and the South East of England"

The accusation comes as areas of South Yorkshire, especially Doncaster and Sheffield, face serious flooding, with one person having lost their life, thousands of homes flooded and many people facing disruption.

However, does it really stand up to scrutiny?

Before we get into the nitty gritty, a word of caution.

Dissecting government spending on flooding by region is rather tricky: some of the national numbers contribute towards schemes around the country; moreover different areas need different kinds of mitigation strategies and defence.

So finding like-for-like comparisons is hard.

All the same, when you look at overall spending by region, there is a clear pattern: London and the South East lead the pack, with comfortably the most spending both in absolute terms and even when you divide that spending by the regional population.

For instance, planned spending in the South East comes out at over £180 per person, compared with £32.80 in the North East.

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But here's the thing: those numbers are dramatically distorted by the inclusion of a big chunk of spending on the Thames Estuary, which covers London and the South East.

That spending is due to be spread out over the next eight decades while all the other regional spending only covers the next two years, until 2021.

So how does the picture change if you just look at the next couple of years? The answer is: quite dramatically.

When you consider planned flood spending up until 2021, the region with the most per-head planned spending is actually Yorkshire and the Humber.

Which is the very region where the recent flooding has been happening.

So Mr Corbyn isn't right that most spending has gone on London and the South East.

But he is nonetheless right about something else.

The amount of spending on flood defences in the UK has not kept track with the pre-austerity trend.

Across the UK, much spending on flood defences was cut in 2010 and while some of that was reinstated following winter floods in subsequent years, the current level of spending is far shy of where it would be if it had carried on increasing at the rate it was before 2010.

Campaign Check scrutinises election claims made by political parties, examining if they are true or false, and the context. Sky News is working with Full Fact - the leading independent fact-checking charity.

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