Salisbury JournalGovernment 'lost control' on floods (From Salisbury Journal)

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Government 'lost control' on floods

Salisbury Journal: Prime Minister David Cameron with Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger at Goodings Farm in Fordgate, Somerset Prime Minister David Cameron with Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger at Goodings Farm in Fordgate, Somerset

Most Britons believe the Government has lost control of the flooding crisis, polling shows, as police announced 24-hour boat patrols in flood-hit areas to prevent looting.

Two severe flood warnings remained in place on the Somerset Levels as efforts to get affected areas back on their feet continued to gather momentum.

Sporadic rain is expected in the coming days, bringing fears of water levels rising again, but forecasters predicted a largely drier week ahead.

The Government continued to face growing anger over the crisis, with nearly three-quarters of Britons polled saying it does not appear to be in control of the situation.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of those asked in the survey said the Government has emerged from the extreme weather situation with a worse reputation for crisis management.

The poll by ComRes for ITV News found that just a quarter (26%) believe the flooding has made no difference and only 7% think that the Government is emerging from the situation with a better reputation.

As the weather let up, Avon and Somerset Police said they would be using two inflatable lifeboats provided by the RNLI to keep communities hit by flooding safe.

Assistant Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe said: "We've had officers on the ground for weeks now on foot and in 4x4 vehicles, doing whatever they can for people in need and preventing crime. This is just another way of taking our services right to the heart of the flooded areas.

"Their task is to police the flooded communities by providing a visible presence and a deterrent to would-be criminals."

Prime Minister David Cameron described the crisis as a "tragedy" while unveiling £10 million of support for flood-hit businesses on a visit to Upton-upon-Severn in Worcestershire.

Meanwhile unions claimed that controversial plans to axe jobs at the Environment Agency (EA) would be raised at fresh talks this week.

The GMB said a meeting had been arranged for Thursday at which it is believed a timetable will be discussed for pressing ahead with up to 1,700 redundancies.

Last week the EA announced that any job cuts would be put on hold as it dealt with the effects of flooding, a position reinforced by Mr Cameron.

A GMB spokesman said: "The meeting will discuss how the delay impacts on the timetable for job losses. This is ludicrous. Has the Government learned nothing from the current floods?"

Fears of more flooding eased as the EA lifted severe warnings everywhere except in Burrowbridge and Salt Moor and North Moor including Moorland.

There were still flood warnings - with "i mmediate action required" - in 122 communities across England and Wales.

The South East had most with 66, followed by the Midlands (34) and the South West (15). The North East had three, East Anglia two, while the North West and Wales had one each.

Mr Cameron defended the Government's handling of the crisis and hit back at criticism that he was visiting places such as Upton-upon-Severn only after the damage had been done.

The Prime Minister said it was not fair to suggest the Government was on the back foot over its handling of unprecedented national flooding, adding that the Cobra emergency committee had been meeting since water levels started rising before Christmas.

He claimed that flood investment after 2007 in Worcestershire had "made a real difference, with hundreds of properties protected".

He added that Government spending on flood defences had been increased to £2.4 billion in the current four-year period - a rise of £200 million over the previous spending period under the Labour government.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that about 3,000 troops have been deployed to assist flood-hit communities, with another 5,000 on standby.

Insurance companies are to attend a meeting in 10 Downing Street tomorrow to discuss their response to the flooding crisis with Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin and the head of Mr Cameron's policy unit, Jo Johnson.

The Energy Networks Association said e ngineers were working to restore power to 75 customers off supply spread across Hampshire, Dorset and Berkshire, after a million customers had their electricity reconnected.

Labour leader Ed Miliband will call for faster processing of insurance claims when he too meets industry representatives and people who have suffered flooding.

Initial payments should be made within a month, he will suggest, and a new industry standard set to greatly reduce the maximum wait to have a claim completed and return home.

That could take more than a year at present, Labour said.

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