Councils lobbying government for fairer way to fund Internal Drainage Boards

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Guildhall, Gainsborough

A number of local authorities, including West Lindsey District Council, have joined forces to lobby the government to change the way in which it funds Internal Drainage Boards.

Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) are public authorities responsible for managing an area’s water levels. The work includes the prevention and management of flooding to ensure the safety of people and properties.

A total of 15 local authorities have formed a Local Government Association Special Interest Group (SIG), which aims to secure a revised approach from the Government to the current funding method, which members of the group feel leaves them disproportionately impacted financially.

Each council in the SIG is currently required to pay a Special Levy to fund its IDB The levy varies from year to year and the councils have no control over the sum. This levy is paid from the funds collected through Council Tax, a system West Lindsey District Council and others feels impacts on wider spending.

Cllr Paul Redgate, Chairman of the IDB SIG and Portfolio for Finance at South Holland District Council said:

“There is no doubt that Drainage Boards play a vitally important role to protect and support our communities as well as the economy. That is jointly felt by all the Councils in the SIG. The work of the drainage boards came into their own with the recent impact from Storm Babet in how they worked around the clock, pumping water to restore farmland and protect communities.

“It is extremely important the funding mechanism to support the IDBs is addressed by the Government. The current system is unsustainable and resulting in some of the Councils being placed in a position where they are having to make cuts to services to fund the levies rather than using Council Tax yield to grow services to meet demand.

“The levies may only affect a relatively small number of authorities but that places us at a significant financial disadvantage compared to authorities who do not have drainage boards.

“The formation of the SIG is a significant move for the councils to collectively lobby for a change in the way drainage boards are funded and to strongly put our case forward as the levies in their current form will continue to strongly affect our budgets and what we can and can’t deliver for our communities.”

For West Lindsey District Council, the levies increased by £71,828 in 2023/24 compared to an increased Council tax yield of £365,400, which meant that roughly 20% of the Council tax increase went to pay for Drainage Board Levy increases. This means that money is diverted away from Council services toward paying the levy increases.

This issue is unique to a handful of councils – all with relatively small overall budgets - as local authorities not covered by drainage boards do not have this financial disadvantage.

Earlier this year, the Government made a one-off payment to the 15 councils significantly impacted to mitigate the levy increase. While this was hugely welcomed, it was a one-off payment and offers no permanent solution, with the levies expected to increase further in 2024/25. For some local authorities, the one-off payment did not cover this year’s levy increase in their budgets.

Through the SIG, the councils are now seeking a longer term, more sustainable approach to how Special Levy payments to Internal Drainage Boards are funded.

The formation of the SIG is the latest proactive measure to highlight the deficit and serious impact the levies is having on Council budgets and service provision.

Last month, representatives from the 15 local authorities addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sustainable Flood and Drought Management in London.

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

Chief Executive Innes Thomson from the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA), representing drainage, water level, and flood risk management authorities, said:

“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 Special Levy charges to ratepayers.

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

Cllr Darren Rodwell, environment spokesperson for the LGA said:

“We are pleased that the Internal Drainage Board Special Interest Group is joining the local government family.

“The scale of costs being passed onto this small group of councils is not sustainable. The LGA supports their ambitions of securing a revised approach from the Government to the current funding method and we look forward to working with them.”

 

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