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Funding Review Stakeholder Meeting

24 July 2015

Over 80 people today (Friday July 24) gathered at a Stakeholder Meeting held in Highbridge to discuss future funding options for the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA).

The stakeholders represented a wide range of authorities, interest groups and community organisations - from Defra, SRA members and the Association of Drainage Authorities to local authority councillors and MPs; the National Farmers Union and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to Country Landowners Association and Flooding on the Levels Action Group.

Longer term local funding options were developed by the SRA with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and local partners for 2016/17 onwards.

The Review details four options for funding additional flood protection in Somerset (see details below) from 2016 / 2017 onwards.

Following on from the meeting, a Stakeholder Feedback Report will be produced which will be circulated to all attendees. It will also be sent to each SRA member organisation in early August to help inform their decision about their preferred option, as well as being used to help inform Ministers.

Written comments on the options from Stakeholders can be submitted up to August 31 and sent to Kathryn.holdsworth@defra.gsi.gov.uk

A SRA Board members’ workshop has already discussed the Funding Review options. Now members of Somerset’s local authorities and the Internal Drainage Boards, all represented on the SRA Board, will consider the options over the coming weeks.

The timetable for each member organisation’s decisions will shortly be available on the SRA website www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk within the Useful Info section, and the SRA Board will meet on September 23 to finalise its recommendation to Ministers for a preferred option. Ministers will then consider the options and discuss next steps with the SRA.

The Funding Review sets out potential options and pros and cons for each, but does not recommend a particular one.

Funding Review options:
The following is a summary of the four local funding options identified:

Creating a new precepting body (legal power to raise income)
Under this option, the SRA would be established as a new statutory body with precepting powers using primary legislation. The body could raise income from householders and additionally from landowners/land occupiers outside Internal Drainage Board areas. This option would require primary legislation, which could be introduced in Parliament using a public (government) bill or as a private bill sponsored by an external body like Somerset County Council.

Creating a new levying body
There are existing precedents for flood risk management levies in the form of Internal Drainage Board levies and the Environment Agency’s local levy. Primary legislation would be needed to set up the SRA as a statutory body with new powers to charge all Somerset local authorities, or only the County Council, a flood risk management levy. A levying body could either cover the whole of Somerset or it could be limited to areas not currently covered by Internal Drainage Boards.

Council tax
Somerset County Council and the 5 district councils could fund the SRA at the same level as in 2015/16 from council tax. The councils could use a one-off increase in council tax, within the referendum threshold (which was 2% in 2015/16), to generate additional funding for the SRA from households. This could apply from April 2016. In subsequent years the funding would be considered part of the baseline and would not require future council tax increases.

Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) extend boundaries or increase levy
Internal Drainage Boards charge rates and levies to cover their annual expenses. These are reviewed and approved by the Board each year. Under this option both the IDBs in Somerset would have to show that their expenses had increased and would generate the additional £2.7m funds by increasing special levies and charges paid by districts and agricultural land occupiers.

Background information
The SRA received one year’s interim funding of £2.7m for 2015/16 - £1.9m from Defra and £800,000 from Somerset partners Somerset County Council (providing £600,000), and between them Sedgemoor District Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, South Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council, West Somerset District Council and Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards providing £200,000.

This is being used to carry out dredging and a number of other flood risk reduction activities, as well as an Enhanced Maintenance Programme and a Common Works Programme.

The full report and details about the Somerset Rivers Authority are at www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk

There are 11 partner organisations in the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) and their existing responsibilities and accountabilities will continue. 

Through the SRA their work will become fully co-ordinated to ensure Somerset’s flood risk management benefits from their collective experience and knowledge.

They are:
Environment Agency
Mendip District Council
Natural England
Sedgemoor District Council
Somerset County Council
South Somerset District Council
Taunton Deane Borough Council
The Axe/Brue Internal Drainage Boards
The Parrett Internal Drainage Board
Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee
West Somerset Council

If you would like to get in touch please contact us at sra@somerset.gov.uk or tel: 01823 355111
The Flood Action Plan is now overseen by the Somerset Rivers Authority and can be contacted on the above.