Tom Richmond: Tide turns as politicians listen at last on flooding

An aerial picture of last December's floods in Kirkstall Road, Leeds.

An aerial picture of last December's floods in Kirkstall Road, Leeds.

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AS the first person to criticise politicians over their lame response to last winter’s floods, it is only right to praise them when they take on board and listen to genuine concerns.

I refer to Dr Therese Coffey, the new Flooding Minister, who acknowledged there was still a problem with insurance cover for small businesses when she met a delegation of Leeds MPs – plus council chief executive Tom Riordan and council leader Judith Blake – earlier this week.

The Minister said the insurance industry will be launching some new products this Autumn – but that she is happy to keep the matter under review and maintain a dialogue. Contrast this with her stonewalling predecessor Rory Stewart who told Parliament just before the change of Government that he could not foresee any changes to policy.

It is also encouraging that Leeds Council, and the Environment Agency, will look at making it easier for businesses to access support and advice in making their properties more flood resilient – and that a pilot scheme for Kirkstall could be set up.

This is what happens when politicians – national and local – put aside their party differences and work together. It is also significant Dr Coffey agreed to a request to put details of the Government’s flood defence commitment to Leeds in writing to avoid any misunderstanding in future.

However it should not have taken nine months to reach this point – and I sincerely hope Theresa May makes sure that flood-hit regions receive the level of investment that has been afforded to the Thames Valley and, specifically, her riverside constituency of Maidenhead.

It was galling to learn of additional funding to protect a handful of homes in Marlow, just upstream of Maidenhead, in the week that the Government published a winter resilience review which amounted to little more than a damp squib.

I also think she needs to take a harder line with the insurance industry. When homes and businesses are flooded, it is no longer acceptable to carry out repairs on a like-for-like basis. Damaged properties need to be flood-proofed immediately – the question is who foots the bill?

Dr Coffey has made a favourable first impression. She must now deliver on her good intentions – or her reputation will go down the provervial plug hole.

THANKS to the diaries of David Cameron’s former press officer Sir Craig Oliver, it is now clear that the former PM lost the EU referendum, his job and his reputation because of complacency and incompetence.

I was flabbergasted to learn that Mr Cameron won over Elizabeth Truss, the then Environment Secretary, with these words in February: “You’re going to be a big figure in the Conservative Party. Do you really want to spend the next 10 years dealing with the fallout from this (Brexit)?”

A big figure? Try telling that to Yorkshire’s flooding victims let down by this damp squib of a minister.

TWO other snippets from the Craig Oliver book warrant a mention. When David Cameron made a joint appearance at an Asda supermarket with Labour’s Harriet Harman – Ms Nanny State – all she did was complain about the sugar levels in the products in the background.

On the eve of the June 23 vote, Mr Oliver notes excitedly: “The PM’s personal texts and calls to David Beckham have worked and he’s come out for Remain.” I didn’t realise football was a referendum issue.

IT’S not just David Cameron who lost the plot as PM. So, too, did Tony Blair who could not govern without the assistance of Alastair Campbell, judging by the latest volume of the press aide’s diaries.

At the time Mr Campbell resigned in the aftermath of the death of weapons inspector Dr David Kelly, Mr Blair suggested in August 2003 that his confidante go “to Iraq full time to sort things out there”.

The diaries continue: “He said he really needed someone out there who could be his person, and was able to co-ordinate people to work together.” I presume the Labour leader had no faith in Britain’s military leaders and diplomats. Why not?

POOR Matt Hancock, who lost his Cabinet status when Theresa May became PM. Demoted to a bag-carrying junior minister at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, he’s reportedly miffed he no longer has a taxpayer-funded chauffeur-driven car at his beck and call.

Doesn’t Mr Hancock, one of George Osborne’s protégés and who has a reputation in his Newmarket constituency for consulting the former Chancellor on anything contentious, realise that he’s part of a Government for all – and not the privileged few?

BORIS Johnson asks why the Stop The War coalition is not camping outside the Russian Embassy over the Syria crisis, presumably because he has little faith in his diplomatic skills. I ask why the Foreign Secretary has not pitched up his own tent for the long haul? What better way of shaming Vladimir Putin than Mr Johnson, a supposed international statesman, leading a peace vigil and refusing to move until a credible ceasefire has been brokered that halts, arguably, the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century as Aleppo is bombed to smithereens? Or is too cold for him?

IF Labour is now so concerned about Brexit, and its impact, why did its front bench not campaign harder for Britain to stay in the European Union? I’m beginning to find the sanctimonious hypocrisy of shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, the woman who deningrated white van drivers, nauseating to say the least.

AS politicians deliberate over the feasibility of a rail connection to Leeds Bradford (International) Airport, they would do well to remember that West Yorkshire has a perfectly good train link... to Manchester Airport.

The only problem is that longer trains are desperately needed to accommodate the sheer number of people who wish to travel across the Pennines for either work or pleasure – three-carriage services are no longer sufficient at off-peak times.

There must surely be a quicker way of sourcing some new rolling stock.

CAN anyone explain how Jeramine Jenas has become the BBC’s latest know-it-all on footballing matters – and whether licence fee payers are having to pay for his pointless punditry? I don’t recall him ever having a half-decent game – for club(s) or country.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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