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Severe weather response was good, ministers told

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Councils have hit back at government criticism of their emergency response to recent severe weather.

Claims by environment secretary Owen Paterson that the response to the flooding and high winds that left seven people dead had been ‘patchy’ and that information sharing had been poor were rejected by local government and the Met Office.

The rejection comes ahead of a report commissioned by the prime minister into the emergency response, which will be written by Whitehall officials and is due to be published at the end of January.

Concern is mounting that the report will reinforce claims made by Mr Paterson to MPs that information sharing between key government agencies and councils “left room for improvement”.

Sir Merrick Cockell, in his annual address as chairman of the Local Government Association, criticised the negative comments which had come despite council teams working around the clock.

He said: “Sadly, we’ve not heard too much public credit being given to Councils for the work they and their staff have done and continue to do.”

The Met Office defended current arrangements for sharing weather warnings with councils.

A spokesman told LGC: “We have two routes for local authorities. There are a team of 15 advisers across the UK who work with responders through the local resilience forum. They support risk analysis, planning and events. Also there is access via the web portal Hazard Management. This is a one-stop shop for weather information and weather hazard information that local authorities sign up to.  Also they have access to all the information on our public website.”

The minister’s comments drew an angry response from Cornwall Council, which has 7,600 vulnerable homes and businesses in zones assessed by the Environment Agency to carry an annual likelihood of flooding.

Edwina Hannaford (Lib Dem), cabinet member for environment, heritage and planning, said: “Yes, we do need a national approach to look into severe weather incidents, which are becoming more frequent. Cornwall is being hit a by a triple funding cut effect with government austerity generally and diminishing local authority funding, cuts to the Environment Agency and the removal of the regional EA tier. The Bellwin formula is not helpful to Cornwall.

“The financial implications of the recent events need studying carefully as these events appear to be becoming more frequent and severe.”

A Downing Street spokesman told LGC that a “full assessment” would be ready by the end of the month but no date had been. He was unable to confirm the terms of reference.

A statement from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said it was unable to give specific details of the councils that needed to improve.

The LGA warned councils would have a significant damage bill to pay from the winter weather. That prediction was backed by the Asphalt Industry Alliance which revealed the compensation bill for potholes that councils had to pay motorists in 2012-13 was £45m. The AIA said the bill had doubled on the previous year and would increase again.

An LGA spokesman said: “The severe weather has left behind a daunting trail of destruction for councils to clear up and fix.”

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