Page last updated at 03:40 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 04:40 UK

Flooded areas miss out on EU cash

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

Youths rowing in Toll Bar during 2007 floods
Toll Bar in South Yorkshire was one of the worst-hit areas

Communities affected by last summer's floods across England are to get much less compensation from the European Union than originally thought.

In March, the European Parliament voted to give the United Kingdom about £110m from the European Union's Solidarity Fund - a pot of money set aside for member states to apply for if hit by a natural disaster.

But it has now been confirmed the payout will only be £31m.

So why is the cheque being written only for around a quarter of the amount originally announced?

I was in Strasbourg when the European Parliament voted by a massive majority for the payout - 639 Euro MPs were in favour and just nine voted against the move.

Those that I spoke to from the main parties were jubilant and relieved.

For once, they muttered, there would be some positive headlines in Britain about the European Union.

A blind man in the dark could have actually seen that this was going to present serious difficulties
Barry Dare, leader of Gloucestershire County Council

But with today's news, many are once again disappointed.

The Department of Communities and Local Government said the original £110m quoted to the media and repeated by all the parties in Strasbourg at the time, was a "premature" total.

The amount being given to the UK was not formally approved until early April - when £31m was agreed.

So what happened to the other £79m? The government says the answer can be found in a deal made in 1984.

It was then, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the UK agreed a so-called "abatement mechanism" with the EU - what is commonly known as the rebate.

The rebate ensures money is paid back to the UK to take account of the fact that the country gives more to Europe that it receives.

Flooding in Tewkesbury, July 2007
Gloucestershire County Council's leader says it is "disgraceful"

But one of the compromises of this agreement, it now appears, was that Britain would be entitled to less from pots of money such as the Solidarity Fund.

Local authority leaders who were hopeful of successfully applying for some of the money have voiced their anger.

Gloucestershire experienced its worst floods on record in the summer of 2007, with its main electricity substation, at Walham near Gloucester, flooded.

Barry Dare, leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: "I think it's absolutely disgraceful.

"A blind man in the dark could have actually seen that this was going to present serious difficulties and a great wave of anger within the county of Gloucestershire - and indeed throughout the United Kingdom.

“We are very disappointed that the government hasn't fought our corner more vigorously and are baffled as to why no-one has explained to us why there has been such a sizeable cut in the amount we originally asked for."

Timothy Kirkhope is the Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.

In his constituency, 17,000 properties in Hull were affected by the floods, and in Toll Bar near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, the floods reduced many homes to shells - with no floors or plaster on the walls.

By the time affected communities receive this funding it will hardly be worth the candle
Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative MEP

He said: "I am very, very angry indeed.

"The government was very triumphant when the money was secured but they must have been well aware then that they would not be receiving anywhere close to all of it.

"By the time affected communities receive this funding it will hardly be worth the candle," he said.

Ministers, though, insist the UK has still got a good deal.

And they have dismissed suggestions the lower payout had anything to do with Tony Blair's renegotiation of Britain's rebate in 2005.

The Floods Recovery Minister John Healey said the £31m from the European Union would be added to the £88m that has already been given to flood-hit areas.

He said the money would "be made available to local authorities, police authorities and fire and rescue authorities - and local government is free to use this money as they see fit to ensure it makes a real difference".

For some of those affected, this twist in the story will do little to dampen the cynicism they feel towards central government - and the European Union.


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