SRA Annual Report 2020-21: Somerset Rivers Authority funding and legislation

Funding from local partners

For its first full year of work in 2015-16, the SRA had Interim Funding of £2.7 million from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), Somerset’s local authorities and Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium. In December 2015, the Government gave Somerset County Council and Somerset’s district councils the power to raise a shadow precept of up to 1.25% of 2016-17 council tax, to fund the SRA in 2016-17. The figure of 1.25% was chosen because it came close to matching the SRA’s initial budget of £2.7 million.

The SRA is still reliant upon annual shadow precepting and its level is still pegged to that initial £2.7 million, although the actual amount of money raised has gone up. In 2020-21, it was £2.924 million. In other words: the level of the charge is frozen, but as the number of households in Somerset increases every year, more people pay, so the total amount rises. The Parrett and Axe Brue Internal Drainage Boards also choose to contribute £10,000 a year each.

Funding from Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP)

The SRA gets no central government funding from year to year. However, in 2014 Government funding of £13.049 million was awarded through the HotSWLEP Growth Deal Fund for the carrying out of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan. As the body that now oversees the Flood Action Plan, the SRA has been spending this Growth Deal funding on several major projects, including dredging, River Sowy-King’s Sedgemoor Drain enhancements and other activities covered in this report.

Legislation

In October 2020, the SRA Chair Cllr David Hall wrote to the Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, in her capacity as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for flooding at Defra.

Cllr Hall asked about progress with legislation required to put the SRA on a secure long-term footing and give it the power to raise its own share of council tax.

He stated that the SRA Board “firmly believes that the SRA being a major precepting authority is vitally important to ensure the residents of Somerset continue to enjoy an extra level of flood protection into the future.”

Ms Pow replied that because Parliament had a very large legislative programme to work through, increased because of the coronavirus pandemic and new working arrangements, it had not been possible to make progress with Rivers Authorities legislation.

She added: “I appreciate that this will be disappointing to the Board but do reassure you that I remain supportive of the Authority and the important work that it does, and will continue to explore opportunities for potential routes that may be appropriate for taking this forward.”

She emphasised that the Government had no plans to remove the SRA’s shadow precept arrangements, so the SRA could continue to operate while needed and wanted locally.

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