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A senior minister has not ruled out further help for businesses hit by the floods amid concerns that spiralling insurance premiums could send some to the wall.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the government would explore whether there was a case for the ‘Flood Re’ scheme for householders to be extended to businesses.
The scheme, due to start in 2015, will use small subsidies on everyone’s building insurance so homes in flood-prone areas can continue to be covered.
The minister came to Kent to see the damage caused by the floods and storms to meet residents in Yalding, near Maidstone, following in the footsteps of the Prime Minister, who visited shortly after Christmas.
Mr Alexander told Kent Business: “We will be talking with the CBI and other business organisations to see if more can be done along the lines of the ‘Flood Re’ scheme to help SMEs get the help they need.
"There is quite a lot to help businesses affected but we will be listening to see if more can be done.”
Some SMEs fear they will will see premiums soar or huge policy excesses - along with the prospect of some being unable to get insurance.
Nick Rowell, the vice-chairman of the Maidstone branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said it would be a false economy to exclude businesses.
“It is right and proper that ‘Flood Re’ benefits residents but if it is not extended to small and medium sized firms, from a national economic perspective, that is really serious. There is a very real issue over insurance because we have a legacy of inappropriate flood plain development.”
The government needed to recognise that it was the success of SMEs that was driving the slowly improving economy, he added.
For those affected by flooding, the inability to secure insurance could be the final straw, he added.
He also warned a £10m pot to help businesses recover from the floods, along with rate relief, were welcome, they were unlikely to be seen as anything more than a gesture.
“Michael Fallon [business minister] has talked about a maximum of £2,500 which is a welcome gesture but it may not make the difference between being able to stay in business.”
Mr Fallon urged councils to act quickly to process claims from businesses for a share of a £10m emergency fund. The fund will cover claims for clean-up costs and loss of trade.
“We have allocated the money to councils and we want to see the process as simple as possible. This is public money and we need it to get to the right people. Councils have to be reasonable and apply commonsense but the message is ‘start writing the cheques.’”
The government would review the claims made under the two schemes before deciding whether additional help was needed, he added.
“We have estimated there will be 3,000 to 4,000 businesses around the country making claims and we will know from those claims being made to councils whether that is right.”
Figures from the Association of British Insurers suggest that as many as four out of five small firms hit by the floods subsequently go out of business within 18 months.
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