* Government pushes insurers to help flood-hit Britons
* Respite from rain shifts focus to long-term issues
* Political blame game goes on, climate change in focus
By William James and Chris Vellacott
LONDON, Feb 18 British ministers demanded
insurance firms act swiftly to pay out cash to flood-hit homes
and businesses on Tuesday as the government shifted focus from
the day-to-day management of severe flooding to coping with the
Parts of Britain have been under water since December after
a series of unusually heavy storms inundated large swathes of
the British countryside, flooding thousands of homes, damaging
transport links and shutting down businesses.
After weeks of warning that more rain was on the way,
forecasters now say Britain is set for improved weather, which
means ministers can move from dealing with worsening floods and
instead focus on efforts to rebuild once the waters recede.
Prime Minister David Cameron, whose initial response to the
flooding provoked criticism, must now convince voters his
government is in control of the clean-up. Critics have demanded
answers to longer-term questions about Britain's flood defences
and the impact of climate change on the country's weather.
"We want to make sure that the insurance companies are doing
their bit, putting all their resources into dealing with these
claims," said the junior minister for flooding, Dan Rogerson,
after meeting insurance firms representing nearly two-thirds of
He said the industry's response so far had been very
reassuring. The opposition Labour party criticised Cameron for
not attending the meeting, calling it a "vacuous PR stunt."
Analysts at Deloitte estimated that the bill for repairs may
end up reaching 1 billion pounds ($1.67 billion).
With consumers and businesses expressing concern at a likely
rise in flood insurance costs, Rogerson pointed to a government
reinsurance scheme due to come into effect next year that aims
to provide affordable premiums for owners of flood-prone homes.
According to the British government, flood-hit households
have already received 14 million pounds ($23.40 million) of
emergency payments since Dec. 23, while around 24 million pounds
has been spent on emergency accommodation.
No such reinsurance scheme exists for businesses but
Rogerson said the government was seeking views on whether
commercial property insurance reform was needed.
The British Chambers of Commerce said it would be watching
insurers vigilantly to ensure that they paid out to affected
businesses swiftly and fairly.
While the flood impact could have an impact on Britain's
economic recovery, it is not seen as sufficient to derail the
country's long-term rebound.
Britain's two-party coalition government has faced intense
pressure over the floods, with critics saying that problems have
been exacerbated by years of under-investment in river dredging
and flood defences.
Cameron and other senior ministers have faced angry voters
on visits to the flood-hit regions - some of which are expected
to be important battleground areas in next year's elections.
Almost three-quarters of Britons said the government does
not appear to be in control of the flooding, an opinion poll for
ITV and ComRes showed.
The floods have also pushed climate change up the British
political agenda. The poll also showed 79 percent thought
Britain was not equipped to deal with weather it is likely to
face over the next five years.
Cameron has said Britain is experiencing more extreme
weather events and can expect more, but has been more reluctant
than other leaders to draw a direct link to climate change.
Last week Ed Davey, the government's energy minister and a
member of the junior coalition partner Liberal Democrat party,
said Britain needed to do more to prevent climate change and
acknowledge its role in causing the floods.
He said "partisan politics" was endangering Britain's
political consensus on cutting harmful emissions and accused
climate change sceptics in Cameron's Conservative party of
scaring off investors in low-carbon energy.
On Sunday Labour leader Ed Miliband, currently frontrunner
to become Prime Minister at next year's election, said Britain
risked "sleepwalking into a national security crisis" on climate