Monday, 21 February 2011

AV: Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick

The similarities between the AV Referendum and the ill-fated North East Regional Assembly Referendum are uncanny, and do not bode well for the Yes campaign:

i) in both cases, the Cabinet is/was divided between Yes and No camps
ii) neither Referendum offers/ed the Yes campaign what it really wants/ed
iii) both are/were about quite complicated matters that need/ed an impartial explanation - but all explanation is/was being/een left to the campaigners, with the result there is/was a lot of misinformation flying around.
iv) both are tied to unrelated issues (reducing number of MPs, unitary local government) which will only muddy the water - and will be/was brought in whatever the referendum result

And if people do vote No - there'll be no way to distinguish between the 'No, we want to keep FPTP' and 'No, we want something better than this'

It isn't looking good for the Yes campaign...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Pre-empted but not defeated

The ‘Plan A’ response to the news that the EA were unlikely to find funding for the Morpeth Flood Alleviation Scheme (see previous post) assumed that the EA Board would not be making their final decision until their March meeting, and that there was time to lobby them. Unfortunately, in the words of our local EA contact:

“The Environment Agency's Board meet each month and we were advised that they would be discussing the indicative allocations at their February meeting but, due to the number a schemes without funding and the representations that had been made, that the final allocation would probably not be agreed until the March meeting. As it happened the Board agreed the allocation at the February meeting. Therefore the final sanctioned list has now been published. The final approved allocation for 2011/12 does not include funding for Morpeth.”
In other words, the lobbying campaign has been pre-empted, and as the EA contact explains:

“At the moment we have not received any scheme allocations beyond the 2011/12 financial year because of Defra's consultation on funding reforms to start in April 2012.

“So at the moment we are facing at least a 1 year delay to the project due to the lack of funding in 2011/12. However, we are currently exploring options to try and secure some level of funding in the 2011/12 financial year to at least continue with some of the planning and design work so that we are ready to start on site if grant funding did become available.”

That is – they are looking for £500k to bring the scheme through technical approval and planning approval, so if and when funding becomes available, they can start work straightaway.

Meanwhile, the Town Council has responded to the Defra funding reform consultation - which is mainly about Government only part-funding schemes and the local community coming up with the rest. And the campaign is continuing to lobby – both looking for a political change of mind (and we know the Government has ‘contingency funds’) and to keep awareness of the Morpeth Scheme live.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Chasing the money

So – funding for the Morpeth flood prevention scheme which politicians of all colours (not just Nick Clegg) assured us was safe – has been deferred. But Morpeth is going to fight the decision (apparently)

As I understand – EA flood protection funding has been cut by 27% for 2011-12, and with existing contractual commitments – they are left with only £19M uncommitted funding for the whole country, and first call on that is for statutory functions such as maintaining reservoirs.

Meanwhile – though the whole Morpeth Scheme costs £17M – allocation of £4M for 2011-12 will see the technical preparations, planning permission etc completed and work started on the ground. And starting the work next year is critical because the Government is consulting on new funding arrangements to start in 2012-13 which would require a significant community contribution to the cost. If we don’t get the scheme started next year, then whatever happens it won’t be funded fully by Government.

So Plan A is to lobby the EA Board (chaired by Lord [Chris] Smith) ahead of their meeting in March to fully fund the Northumbria Regional Flood Defence (NRFC) programme – the top priority of which will be the Morpeth Scheme

If this fails, then we are told that £500k will cover the costs of completing the details of the scheme, gaining planning permission etc so that work on scheme can start as soon as funding becomes available. So Plan B is to raise that £500k either from the NRFC local levy (they have discretion over a c£2M pot ) or from other sources. And the NRFC meet to confirm their programme, informed by the EA Board’s funding decisions in April.

And finally – though it is possible for the work on the scheme to be phased, it is not a good idea to break up the overall scheme since the business case for separate elements of the scheme is weaker than that for the full integrated scheme.

So – let’s tet out there and start lobbying…