Cameron under pressure over flood spending pledge
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron came under pressure on Wednesday to spell out where he would find the money for his pledge to spend whatever was needed to help those affected by severe flooding in England.
Parts of southwest England have been under water for weeks after the country's wettest January in nearly 250 years, with more densely populated areas near London also hit by flooding in the last few days as the rainy weather continued into February.
Several politicians who have donned rubber boots to wade through muddy waters on visits to flooded areas have received a rough ride from residents angry at a perceived slow response to the crisis and a lack of funding for flood prevention measures.
On Tuesday, Cameron said "money was no object" in the relief effort, a pledge his critics said was at odds with the austerity policy of his government, which has made deep spending cuts in the last few years to tackle a record peacetime budget deficit.
Highlighting comments by Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin earlier on Wednesday that there was no "blank cheque" for flood spending, opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband asked Cameron exactly what his promise covered.
Speaking at the prime minister's weekly parliamentary grilling, Miliband also questioned plans to cut the number of staff at the Environment Agency dealing with floods.
"If money is no object ... is he committing now to reconsider these redundancies?" he asked, expressing doubts about what he called Cameron's "grand promise" of financial aid.
Reiterating his spending pledge on Wednesday, Cameron gave details of plans to help those affected, saying homeowners and businesses would get grants of up to 5,000 pounds ($8,200) each to help with repairs and future flood defences.
Businesses would also be able to claim tax relief, while a 10 million pound fund would be made available to farmers.
Earlier Cameron's official spokesman said the government had "a number of contingency funds".
On top of 16 severe flood warnings which remained in place, the Met Office issued its highest level of alert for expected winds on Wednesday, saying parts of Wales and northwest England could face gusts of up to 100 miles (160 km) per hour.
Specialists at PwC and Deloitte say insurers could face a bill of around 500 million pounds for the damage caused by flooding, which has affected 5,500 homes since early December.
Several major banks, including Santander, HSBC and RBS, have announced help for flood-hit households and businesses through measures such as loan repayment holidays and increased overdrafts.
Cameron, who had already last week announced an extra 130 million pounds of state money to help tackle the floods, said the banks' support would be worth more than 750 million pounds.
($1 = 0.6067 British pounds)
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