Investment in flood defences would be a priority for an incoming Labour government, Ed Balls has said.

The shadow chancellor accused the coalition Government of "short-termist salami-slicing" of budgets for flood defences, and said that 300 "shovel-ready" schemes were shelved last year because of lack of funding.

He said Labour's ongoing "zero-based review" of public spending has made clear that funds should be directed towards preventive work which can save money in the long term.

And he said that a review carried out for Labour by Olympic supremo Sir John Armitt had identified flood defences which can cope with the potential effects of climate change as "a national priority".

Sir John is soon to publish draft legislation to create an independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify the UK's long-term infrastructure needs and hold governments of all political colours to account for delivering them.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Balls said: " Of course, if Labour wins the next election, there will need to be spending cuts. There will be a big deficit still to be brought down after the global financial crisis and the Chancellor (George Osborne) is set to break his promise to balance the books by 2015.

"But how we make those cuts is vital. Our zero-based review of public spending - a root-and-branch review of every pound spent by government from the bottom up - is clear that we must eliminate waste and inefficiencies, but also prioritise preventative spending that can save money in the long term.

"There can be few better examples than investment in flood defences."

Spending on defences was boosted after the 2007 floods, but the coalition Government then cut it by 17% in real terms in 2010, said Mr Balls.

"Even after announcements in recent weeks, the House of Commons Library says that government spending on flood defences is lower in real terms during this spending review period than the last one," he said.

"Meanwhile, there were over 300 shovel-ready flood-defence projects last year that could have been built but weren't due to lack of funding."

Citing a recent warning from the Committee on Climate Change that investment in flood defences was £500 million below what was needed and that this risked £3 billion in avoidable flood damage, Mr Balls said: " How can this make economic sense? Rather than the short-termist salami-slicing of budgets we have seen, we need instead to make long-term decisions now that can save money in the future.

"Next month's Budget must begin to set out that action, and I am also clear that investment in flood defences - preventative spending that can save money in the long-run - must and will be a priority for the next Labour government."