Johnstone’s View - First hand knowledge of flooding

The excessive rain has brought Aberdeenshire the worst flooding in living memory.

Though we were thankfully spared the worst of this event in Stonehaven, first-hand knowledge of the impact added to concerns over friends and relatives who bore the brunt in the affected areas.

I applaud the community spirit in the face of adversity, and I would like to put on record my thanks and admiration to the emergency services who have gone beyond the call of duty to help those affected.

I would also like to highlight a letter I have received from the Consul General of Japan, Mr Hajime Kitaoka, who expressed his deepest sympathy to those affected by the flooding. He specifically mentioned Inverurie having visited the town recently.

It is times like this that we look to Government for strong leadership and quick action. Apart from a visit and photo opportunity by the First Minister who had clearly dressed for her trip in a Barbour jacket and Hunter wellies, there has been little in the way of reassurance.

While UK Government Ministers were rolling up their sleeves and helping, their Scottish counterparts were, in general, noticeable by their absence. In a Ministerial briefing this week, the Deputy First Minister assured MSPs that the ‘Scottish Government Resilience Room had been actively engaged in the situation throughout’. Quite what this Orwellian pronouncement meant is a cause of speculation, but it is worth looking at the situation more closely.

At Westminster, the Prime Minister announced a £50m funding package for relief measures. Scotland’s share of this through the Barnett formula amounts to around £4m, but, this must be set against the backdrop that the SNP Scottish Government had chosen to freeze cash available for flooding in the 2016/2017 budget while at the same time cutting the budget for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, more commonly known as SEPA.

This week, the Scottish Government have set out how they will use the emergency aid funds, most of which have been made available through the Westminster Government, but which will be administered separately in Scotland. The key elements of this package are as follows.

Providing funding to local authorities to allow them to make payments of £1,500 for households, businesses, charities and community groups affected by flooding. This would be paid from allocations made to local authorities by the Scottish Government. If a local authority did not receive an allocation, they can seek recompense from the Scottish Government ensuring that any individual in any part of Scotland can receive support.

A flat rate grant payment of £3,000 to businesses in any part of Scotland where there is evidence that their ability to trade has been severely impacted by flooding. The grant will be a one-off payment to offset costs which cannot be covered by existing insurance, for example, clean-up costs, materials and exceptional costs to help the business restore trade. This will be funded by the Scottish Government in addition to the local authority allocations.

The Scottish Government will make available £5 million to assist in reinstating infrastructure that has been lost. A specific allocation will be made to Aberdeenshire Council to support the reinstatement of the A93 between Ballater and Braemar.

The Scottish Government will open an Agricultural Floodbank Restoration Grant Scheme which will be available to the farming community to seek financial support to restore damaged floodbanks. The total available will be up to £1 million. Further discussions will take place tomorrow between the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, SEPA and NFU Scotland to discuss how we effectively involve and support the farming community.

However, even this week, the mechanism by which the money due to be distributed to householders, businesses and other organisations to help with the effects of the flood remained a mystery.

There was early confusion at the possibility of means testing to get the money, and astonishment that local authorities who will be administering the funds, will not actually receive the cash until March.

It is, at best, a deeply disappointing state of affairs, and it is not good enough.