Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley) Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley)
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Villa Irene

Charity should begin at home

The Sun, 29th December 2015


Conservationist Stanley Johnson says hard-headed decisions are neededPAYING for new and stronger UK flood defences, where these are essential, will inevitably be a burden on the Exchequer.

Here the Chancellor will have to be imaginative and, if necessary, ruthless.

To tackle the current flood crisis he might, for example, decide to reconsider the statutory ring-fencing of foreign aid at 0.7 per cent of GDP or Gross Domestic Product – the value of Britain’s goods and services per year.

That figure currently amounts to almost £12billion a year.

At the very least it ought to be possible to cut back on aid to countries where there is clear evidence of corruption or where – as in the case of India – the economic circumstances no longer justify such aid.

Who was it who said: “Charity begins at home”?

Frankly I have no idea whether the planned Leeds flood defence system – which Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake yesterday claimed had been scrapped by the Government – would have averted the flooding which hit that city.

What I do know is that the Government cannot afford to be accused of fostering a north-south divide. When David Cameron visited Somerset in February 2014, when the Somerset Levels suffered unprecedented flooding, he said: “Right now the priority is that anyone who needs help gets help.”

That is exactly the line which is needed now. This is not the moment for counting the cost.

But once the emergency has been dealt with, the Government will need to reassess comprehensively its current thinking.

Of course there will be a need for classic flood defences. But there are hard-headed economic calculations to be made here too.

The costs of building protection against any and all flood risks may simply be too heavy.

The right course of action may be for the Government to help with comprehensive insurance schemes in cases where the private sector is reluctant to step in, and if necessary commit itself to cover clean-up and compensation costs, including rebuilding and repair.

Indeed I would argue that the Government should consider such measures immediately, particularly for those who today see their homes flooded and their possessions destroyed through no fault of their own.