Council joins national call for fairer flood risk funding

Published: 15 November 2023

Stock photograph showing water course with greenery alongside.

Folkestone & Hythe District Council has joined a group lobbying central government to find a fairer way of funding vital work to reduce the risk of flooding.

Fifteen local authorities are calling for a revised approach to paying for the work of Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) and avoiding the disproportionate impact on some councils.

IDBs manage water levels and reduce the risk from flooding in areas where special flood management measures are needed to keep communities safe.

In Folkestone & Hythe, the IDB undertakes weed cutting and ditch maintenance work to ensure 175 kilometres of water courses (known as lesser or petty sewers) can run freely. It is not responsible for sea defences but IDB staff work closely with the council’s coastal engineering team and the Environment Agency.

Like other councils covered by IDBs (112 in England), F&HDC is required to pay a special levy to fund the work across the district. Previously local authorities received government grant money to meet the cost but funding now has to come from money collected through council tax.

Due to the rising cost of power and fuel to run pumps and machinery, the levies on councils have soared in recent years. F&HDC has had to divert 3.65% of money received from council tax, or £541,000, to pay the levy for 2023/24.

Earlier this year, the government made a one-off payment to the 15 councils significantly impacted to mitigate the levy increase. For Folkestone & Hythe this was approximately £35,000.

But the group (known as a Local Government Special Interest Group), is now seeking a longer term, more sustainable approach to funding the levy payments.

Cllr Stephen Scoffham, F&HDC Cabinet Member for Climate, Environment and Bio-Diversity, said: “There is no doubt that the drainage boards are carrying out vital work to protect and support the communities within our district and all the councils in the group feel this way.

“In the last 10 years our total levy has increased by more than £100,000 and the year-on-year rise from 2022/23 to 2023/24 was 7%. This is simply not sustainable in the long term and the small number of authorities carrying this burden will be faced with cutting services to afford the levies.”

The group is writing to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove, MPs in the area of each of the 15 councils and the District Councils Network.

Association of Drainage Authorities Chief Executive Innes Thomson added: “The working relationship between local councils and IDBs is longstanding and crucial for the management of water levels and flood risks in the areas they function.

“Councils are today caught between a rock and a hard place where they are obliged to pay the special levy as set by the IDBs but, with rate capping, they are seriously disadvantaged in not being able to pass on all the levy charges to ratepayers.

“Changes are urgently needed to alter this catch-22 situation for councils without disrupting the essential work of the IDBs.”