Coffee House

Why politicians secretly love the Environment Agency

10 February 2014

8:56 AM

10 February 2014

8:56 AM

‘I’ve kept my counsel up to now,’ said Chris Smith, loftily, when he appeared on the Today programme. Perhaps by the end of the interview, in which he managed to distance himself from previous policy pronouncements while defending his staff to the hilt, he wished he’d kept his counsel too. Those opening words suggested that the Environment Agency chief was about to unleash some terrible truth against the politicians taking aim at him, when in fact all he could tell listeners was that it was the Treasury’s fault… sort of.

‘I have to say I’ve kept my counsel up to now about issues like government rules about what the Environment Agency can spend and what it can’t spend. But when I hear someone criticising the expertise and the professionalism of my staff in the Environment Agency who know more about flood risk management – 100 times more about flood management than any politician ever does, I’m afraid I’m not going to sit idly by.

‘The Environment Agency is bound down by the rules set by the Government so when someone says that they followed the advice of the Environment Agency, what they actually were doing were following the Treasury rules that were laid down that say how much we can spend and can’t spend on any individual flood scheme.’


As Smith explained in his Guardian article, the Treasury laid down funding rules for the EA. So in Smith’s mind, it’s the Treasury’s fault. Eric Pickles thinks it’s Chris Smith’s fault. But regardless of who is right about which group of people mucked this up, it is right, really, that politicians should get the blame for this. The Environment Agency is quite a blessing, in many ways, if you’re a minister: like many quangos it’s a catchall not-me-guv for politicians who nobly ‘depoliticise’ decisions by farming them out to ‘independent’ bodies which also serve as tremendously useful and unaccountable scapegoats when the chips are down.

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The whole notion of quangos as some force for good in the world of public policymaking shows how timid politicians have become. They argue that a quasi-autonomous body will have greater ‘expertise’ to make decisions, conveniently forgetting the expertise that already exists – or could exist – in their own departments. More frustratingly still, they argue that non-departmental bodies will ‘take the politics out’ of a decision, as though this is a good thing (although as Dennis Sewell points out in the latest issue of the Spectator, you can take the quango out of politics, but you can’t take the politics out of quangos). It certainly makes life easier for a politician who doesn’t have to bother making the case for a difficult decision.

But it also means that the people affected by that decision have no means of holding the decision-makers to account: quangos are not democratic bodies. Which makes them very convenient in circumstances such as these: Chris Smith doesn’t need to worry about a vengeful electorate. Hoorah for bodies like the Environment Agency, then, if you’re a politician. They save your bacon by taking the blame for decisions that your own democratically accountable group is too timid to own for itself.


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Show comments
  • Chris Hobson

    The environment agency is a useless government quango. Full of overpaid careerist geography graduates monitoring river life and riparian soil sampling.

  • wibbling

    100 times nothing is still nothing.

    It isn’t a question of budget, but simply slavish obedience to EU policy. That’s it. The EA is a well funded quango employing hundreds of people. Hundreds of people who enact EU policy.

    THat’s the problem. Nothing else.

  • andagain

    There are only a few dozen ministers at the most. They can’t take every decision- and most of them would have moved on by the time the results of that decision became aparent anyway. There has to be delegation.

    If you want to stop accidents you need to learn from the ones that happen – not shout and scream and demand that someone get the chop.

    It is not as if you would be in ecstacies of delight if water management decisions were made on openly political grounds.

  • Barry

    Quite apart from the Somerset Levels flooding has now spread to the Home Counties. That should really concentrate the minds of those in charge. Some of them may even live there, or know somebody else who does.

    • Jambo25

      Spot on. I noted, on another discussion, that the rate and speed of government involvement in relief operations has suddenly gone up as ‘important’ South Eastern and outer London people are effected. It isn’t just West Country yokels now.

      • Mynydd

        Just wait until the Thames reach Winsor Castle..

    • andagain

      It should make them think that if they HAD dredged the river in Somerset Levels more, that water would have been dumped in the Home Counties faster, and less of it would have been soaked up in Somerset Levels. So the flooding in the Home Counties – where more voters live – would have been a lot worse.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Hoorah for bodies like the Environment Agency, then, if you’re a
    politician. They save your bacon by taking the blame for decisions that
    your own democratically accountable group is too timid to own for
    itself.

    If that is poor Izzy’s pitiful attempt at trying to excuse politicians of blame then she clearly is suffering from some sort of Westminster based stockholm syndrome delusion. People don’t understand (and basically don’t care about the nuances of) the relationship between government and what are government bodies (who appoints the heads of the organisations). The government will always get the blame no matter how much it tries to escape responsibility

    That Blairite parasite Chris Smith is a great distraction but he is a distraction that Cameron could have got rid of 3 years ago when his appointment was up for renewal. The EA is clearly totally dysfunctional (not least because it is clearly heavily influenced by Brussels on this and other matters?), incapable of any tactical or operational response worth talking of and clearly it powers should be taken away and devolved..Its strategic goals clearly are pure loony toons but even so it remains under the direction of the Treasury as Smith highlighted. Whatever way politicians attempt to duck and dive the buck will always end up on their doorstep!

    The reality is they all live within the same deranged psychotic bubble that is Westminster and as the heads of Westminster Cameron, the exceedingly quiet Miliband (if he is as one nation as he makes out why hasn’t he bothered to visit the area) and Clegg are all fully in the firing line for this current and clearly long term failure of our political classes. Once again they are all in the excrement together!

    • Slim Jim

      Ah, but Miliband thinks it’s disgraceful that the blame game is going on! Apart from when he’s blaming the Tories of course…

  • MirthaTidville

    Ah yes Smithy the Metropolitan dweller…Have we all forgotten that this clown was the Minister for Agriculture when the foot and mouth disease broke out and he hadnt a clue what to do next and we all know how that ended. So fast forward to today and he`s running another major rural responsibility. Seems he doesnt learn much does he??

    • Slim Jim

      Well , for a Metropolitan dweller, he certainly has learned how to keep his pock-marked snout in the trough!

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Paterson is not in work this morning. Why is that? Has he done a Yanukovych?
    British life inspired by Socialism, once again…

    • Mynydd

      He maybe not in work this morning but it didn’t stop him writing to Mr Cameron about Mr Pickles blaming the EA for the country wide floods. Another example of the cabinet falling apart under Mr Cameron’s feet. Not to worry, he as got hold of the TV remote so he can change over from viewing the floods to a political comedy.

      • HookesLaw

        Do you think that the problems if any at the EA only burst into existence in 2010? The various dubious activities of the EA have been going on for years – and of course that covers the time of Brown and Blair.

        • Mynydd

          No matter how long standing the problem with flood protection you don’t resolve it by cutting its financial resources, which happen in 2010

    • Denis_Cooper

      As I heard he had a detached retina and has been in hospital for an operation.

      Of course that could just be an excuse, like Major’s wisdom tooth.

      • Mynydd

        Major’s wisdom tooth was that which allowed him to become Prime Minister when the Conservative party stabbed the Mrs Thatcher in the back

    • Jambo25

      He’s not at work as he had an operation to replace a detached retina at the weekend.

  • Iain Hill

    No sane person could fail to pity the plight of those suffering from flooding, nor wish anything but a speedy removal of the dangers involved. Is it possible though, that this may prove the tipping point for a major revaluation of the UK and its values?

    In general, the UK story nowadays is one of economic policy aggressively directed towards further squeezing the poor and transferring wealth to the rich and their adherents. In that situation, the affluent of the “Home Counties” sit and watch approvingly, supremely confident that nothing bad can ever happen to them, gathered around their monarch in Fortress Berkshire and similar stockbroker enclaves.

    Flooding has changed all that. In truth we are all in this together, rich and poor alike. Water knows no distinctions of class or cronyism. The policy of recklessly slashing away at our public infrastructure, so as progressively to diminish the contribution by the elite towards the necessities of national life, has come back to deliver a resounding slap in its face.

    Perhaps we may hear the penny drop soon, and start to reconstruct a society which seeks to benefit all its citizens, where government fulfils its proper function of assessing the needs of all of us, taking decisive action to resolve the problems, regardless of cost, and ensuring that the financial burden is met by those with the resources to pay.

    Didn’t the Chinese equate crisis with opportunity?

    • Mynydd

      I wonder how many of those in Fortress Berkshire and the Home Counties who are now crying out for government help, cheered to the rafters when the government announced welfare cuts. What goes round comes around.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        A typically spiteful, envious comment worthy of Labour the fascist party of lies, lying and liars.

        • Mynydd

          You cannot lie when you ask a question, but you can when you answer

          • Nicholas chuzzlewit

            Labour the party of lies, lying and liars.

    • Jambo25

      Wait. You’ll be accused of being a class warrior for the above posting.

  • gelert

    He’d make a good gargoyle on Wells Cathedral.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The more unaccountable and unelected government machinery is, including the agencies and quangos, the more complex and convoluted the blame game when it all goes horribly wrong – as it always does.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Correct, so what we do is we have 1) a state-run government supported by 2) a Quango-run second government, preferably stacked with politicos from the other side. Perfect cannon fodder!

      Then shake and stir and let life do it’s thing and observe a *double-sized* administration you and I are paying for bash their heads in. Those who dream in Blue and Red will go off on one, totally ignoring the real issue here.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Apart from the fact that the ‘shadow’ government is overwhelmingly red.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …do you really think the Cameroons care about that? It’s not like they’d dare posturing themselves as “toxic”, is it?

          Smith is as safe as a kitten. His mate Dave is there to protect him.

    • Mynydd

      So after almost four years why no bonfire.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Probably because Cameron is no conservative and has swallowed the socialist Common Purpose crap.

      • HookesLaw

        There has been a reduction in quangos.
        At least 106 public bodies have gone so far, and additionally more than 150 bodies have or are to be merged into fewer than 70. The savings are estimated to be £2.6 billion.
        Do these facts change your outlook? I doubt it – you will ignore the facts and prefe to continue to live in your fantasy world.

  • Sue Posi-Tory

    ‘Lord’ Smith came over as just another professional lefty quangocrat just like ‘Baroness’ Morgan.

  • Peter Stroud

    No doubt there are those in the EA who know more about drainage, than the politicians. However, there are more experts living in the Levels than in the Agency: and the idiot, Lord Smith knows this.

  • David Booth.

    Chris Smith (ditch the sir) has developed the technique of answering a criticism of himself by promptly defending the staff at EA. The criticism of the EA is directed at the senior level of Smith not the front line staff who have mud on their boots.
    Any decent chairman would resign except Smith isn’t, and now is trying to muddy the waters by blaming all and sundry. His final default position will be to accuse his critics of homophobia!

    • DWWolds

      No doubt he is pleased with himself for defending his staff. No doubt too those staff have been working their buts off over the last few weeks.

      However, he made the mistake that is endemic in Labour in believing that the EA, like all public bodies, is all about staff. That should not be the case. All public bodies, like any organisation, should be there to achieve specified objectives.

      If Smith believed the objectives of the EA were wrong he should have argued the case with the government during his time in office. He appears not to have done that.

  • http://english-pensioner.blogspot.co.uk/ english_pensioner

    Politicians love all the “Agencies” and Quangos. They can pass responsibility to these organisations and deny any responsibility when things go wrong. And if that doesn’t work, well blame the EU.

    • Bluesman_1

      Plus, it does make an agreeable “retirement” from public life.

      • DWWolds

        For failed Labour politicians it certainly seems to.

  • jazz606

    A little flooding in a low lying part an offshore island is of no importance in a EU wide context. Particularly when the population of the affected area have been effectively disenfranchised.

  • Colin56

    How sweet it is that the Thames is now lapping at the edges of civilisation viz inside the M25, and that lofty Londoners and smug burghers ofSsurrey and Berkshire might be about to get a taste of what has been afflicting their country cousins for the past five weeks. You can bet your pension that the EA, government, even Dave will be out there in wellies with brooms to save the million-pound cottages in the Thames Valley while the farmers and villagers of Somerset have effectively been abandoned. This Government, the EA, Uncle Chris Smith and all have made a complete horlicks of this, as that honest fellow Pickles tacitly admitted yesterday. The EA is completely unfit for purpose and should be disbanded forthwith. The aid budget should be raided for emergency funding for flood defences and repairing the damaged rail and other infrastructure now – this week. We need to put right the wrongs done this winter and start preparing for next winter. Now, this week. Now, where’s my pitchfork?

    • Slim Jim

      Perhaps the EA should be disbanded, but that’s not going to happen, is it? What would be better is if it was headed by a competent person. How about Lord Dannat? Maybe his military experience would be put to good use. Just a thought…

      • Colin56

        A single competent person at the top of the EA would make no difference at all to the it’s institutional incompetence (some of which may well stem from its remit). Through its actions, and lack of actions, it has completely lost the confidence of the people it is supposed to serve and those who fund it (us poor benighted taxpayers). The EA must go, and careful thought should be given to what – and who – replaces it. Something involving the localism principle would be good, for starters. Keep Dannat and other worthies out of it.

        • Mynydd

          Where the EA has had the money they have built perfectly good flood protection schemes, which according to Mr Cameron have saved million’s of homes, thus there cannot be ” institutional incompetence” With respect to localism, can you tell me what flood protection expertise have the pub landlord, the school teacher, the dustman, the ladies who lunch, or anyone else in your town. This is a job for engineers which the EA have many, give them the money to get on with the job.

          • Colonel Mustard

            The EA needs to give them the money to do the job rather than spending it on ‘political training’ (probably Common Purpose bollocks) as revealed by their own staff elsewhere.

            • Mynydd

              Would you please tell Mr Cameron/Pickles where and when this political training is taking place so that they put an immediate stop to it, Having failed to do so in the last four years they would be grateful for your factual import. Or is another of your rants.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Smith isn’t an engineer, apparently, and I doubt you’ll find many engineers in positions of responsibility in that group. The envirowhackos don’t like engineers interfering with their good works, you’ll find.

            • Nicholas chuzzlewit

              Agreed, they are much too busy ordering the rest of us about and taking our money in salaries and expenses.

          • Colin56

            The local people know their area – the farmers knows their fields, ditches, watercourses etc intimately – and the engineers, wherever they come from, need to take heed and listen to the locals. Unfortunately the EA has given the impression that they know best, do a very poor job of listening, and care little for the people on the (sodden) ground. If they’d have listened earlier, and acted on what they had heard, they may not have been judged institutionally incompetent. That they did not do so makes them institutionally incompetent in this context. Thus, confidence in the EA has been lost, probably irreparably so. Mr Cameron’s bleatings don’t really hold water.

    • Ron Todd

      As soon as the Thames valley is threatened the troops are out. People the government cares about live next to the Thames.

  • Holly

    If the politicians in government are to take the flack from any environmental issues, the Environment quango should be scrapped immediately.
    There are local Councillors, Local MP’s, DEFRA, and the Environment Agency,( that I know of) all doing what exactly, because they don’t appear to be ‘joined-up’ when dealing with stuff.
    Why so many layers of uselessness, just to get such dismally poor outcomes?
    Get rid, and use the money saved for more targeted prevention measures.

    The most vital action Cameron, and other ministers, can take NOW is to completely ignore any EU diktat that is putting lives, businesses, and anything else in danger or at serious risk from harm….
    Maybe on EU health & safety diktats eh?

    • HookesLaw

      The govt have said there will be more dredging which rather knocks on the head the idea that less dredging (if there was any) was by order or constraint of the EU. My own suspicion is it was based on bigotry by our own officials.
      If the govt have started to disbelieve scientists then this is a good thing, maybe they will turn to global warming next.

      • Hexhamgeezer

        They may ‘have said there will be more dredging’ but they haven’t cleared it yet with Brussels ‘which rather knocks on the head’ your bigoted knee-jerk defence of them.

        • Mynydd

          Surely Mr Cameron would have doubled check his facts with is own officials and with EU officials before promising the farmers and people of the Somerset levels there would be more dredging. Or is this another example of Mr Cameron not doing details. But he did a good photo shoot, even if it was meaningless.

      • an ex-tory voter

        The government said there would be a bonfire of the quangos, how well is that going?
        As for more dredging, we shall see, but I very much doubt it will happen to any serious extent. Any dredging that takes place is likely to be a PR exercise.

        • HookesLaw

          See my point above – its estimated to be saving £2.6 billion.

      • Mike Purves

        Apparently dredging is made inordinately expensive by an EU Directive that the spoil is regarded as ‘waste’ and has to be removed. In pre-EU days the fertile material could be spread on the surrounding fields.

        • HookesLaw

          Apparently? Where is the ‘specifically’?

          I note that ….
          Article 3.2 of The Landfill Directive contains two exclusions which are of particular relevance to dredging disposal activities:-
          ‘the spreading of sludges, including sewage sludges, and sludges resulting from dredging operations and similar matter on the soil for the purposes of fertilisation or improvement
          (first indent of Article 3.2/ Regulation 4(a)).’

          and
          ‘deposit of non-hazardous dredging sludges alongside small waterways from where they been dredged out and of non-hazardous sludges in surface water including the bed and its subsoil
          (third indent of Article 3.2/Regulation 4(c))’

          Do you comprehend the words above, the meaning of these exemptions? We should not be surprised at these exemptions because UK dredging is small in scale compared to mainland Europe and anyone who paused fr thought (unlike you) would realise the huge problems the rules you claim exist whould have in Europe.

          So you see your comment is rubbish (you are in good company in making absured anti EU refgulation comments).
          What you may find if you care to look is that it is likely that if there qare problems the local UK authorities have ‘gold plated’ these exemptions by interpreting them too tightly.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            One thing’s for certain, you don’t “comprehend the words above, the meaning of these exemptions”.

            Posting disjointed, context-free boilerplate demonstrates nothing, lad. It’s just you cheerleading for all things EUSSR, as usual, along with the rest of the socialist Camerluvvies.

          • Mike Purves

            I confess to not having fully memorised the EU Landfill Directive. What fun you must be at parties.

  • Barakzai

    ‘ . . . but you can’t take the politics out of quangos.’ I’m shocked to read this, shocked. Surely Smith, and the likes of Suzi Leather, Sally Morgan, Trevor Phillips et al are selfless and superior apolitical beings?

  • John_Page

    They save your bacon by taking the blame for decisions that your own
    democratically accountable group is too timid to own for itself.

    It’s not working, though, is it. The government is copping it too.

    • an ex-tory voter

      Rightly so!!

  • an ex-tory voter

    There is no denying the fact that the innundation of huge areas of the Somerset Levels and the reported abandonment of an entire village there, has occured on “Dave’s watch”.
    Moreover this catastrophe has been predicted by locals who have been calling desperately for help from “their” government. Their pleas have been ignored, not just for months, but for years.
    The Environment Agency is funded by and is an agency of the Government, it’s failure is therefore the responsibility of “The Government”.

    Blaming the EU won’t wash either. Regardless of any EU directive, it is the prime duty of the Government of this country to protect the people who elect them. If providing that protection means standing up to the EU and if necessary ignoring a “directive” then so be it.

    • HookesLaw

      You expect the govt to stop it raining? As Pickles said, they listened to so called experts and they did so under Labour, who obeyed the experts for years. So your crude attempt to blame Cameron is just that.

      • Mynydd

        The problems around the country and highlighted on the Somerset Levels is because Mr Pickles and fellow ministers didn’t listen to the experts resulting in Mr Cameron/Osborne cut their budget.

        • an ex-tory voter

          This has nothing to do with budgets, it is a policy decision to return some of the Somerset Levels to the status of wetlands. That policy is being implemented by the EA and has resulted in the cessation of dredging of the major rivers which drain the levels into the sea.

          • Mynydd

            Now we know it was government policy for the Somerset levels was and the EA only task was to implemented it

        • Colonel Mustard

          Tripe. It’s really hilarious how Labour are all over the media defending the “non-political” EA which just happens to be stuffed full of highly paid Labour apparatchiks.

          http://order-order.com/2014/02/10/staff-cuts-are-not-the-problem-at-the-environment-agencywhistleblower-management-just-want-to-expand-kingdom/

          • Mynydd

            From June 2010 when he took power Mr Cameron as Prime Minister is responsible for everything that happens during his watch. It’s him and no one else.

            • Colonel Mustard

              Tripe.

          • Mynydd

            Why keep quoting others, don’t you have anything original to say.

      • an ex-tory voter

        The chain of responsibility stops at David Cameron, blaming experts does not change that one jot.

      • Jambo25

        He probably expects the present government not to cut resources to the EA.

    • DWWolds

      You seem to be contradicting yourself. In your first paragraph you claim the problems in Somerset have happened on “Dave’s watch”. Then you say that the pleas of the locals “have been ignored, not just for months, but for years”.

      If that is the case then those years stretch back beyond the current administration to Labour’s term in office.

    • Mynydd

      Is it then the case that the Lib Dem and Conservative MPs for the Somerset Levels have failed in their duty, to protect the people who have elected them, for not providing the necessary resources for flood protection. After all they are the government who dishes out the money. Maybe cutting the top tax rate from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 was more important than farmers and home owners on the Somerset Levels.

      • DWWolds

        You sound like an old 78 LP with the needle stuck in the grove

        • Mynydd

          Do you want the top rate cut to 40%? because that’s a LP that will play and play until the next election.

          • Nicholas chuzzlewit

            Yes because it will probably raise more revenue and Labour were happy with that rate during their last attempt at fascist dictatorship between 1997 and 2010.

            • Mynydd

              And Mr Cameron/Osborne were happy with the 50% tax rate for three years.

              • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                No they were not. It was a typical piece of political opportunism by Gordon scum Brown designed to cause political discomfort for the Tories in the full knowledge that tax revenues would actually fall. They reluctantly took the flak for reducing the rate and the the tax take from the marginal rate has actually increased since. Sorry idiot, you are wrong again.

          • McRobbie

            I just want my taxes spent efficiently..its not so much how much but where is it going. 40% 45% 50% isn’t the argument as far as I’m concerned ..we could get away with a lot less tax demands if the overstaffed underchallenged public sector did their job more efficiently..ref Env Agency more people than many european countries put together…BBC more staff than every media set up in the whole world (might be exaggerated but not by much)…civil service..local government ..NHS etc etc. But labour cannot achieve that aim as it’s hamstrung by its puppetmasters the unions and its only solution to any problem “invest” (spend).

            • Jambo25

              No. You get what you pay for.

            • Mynydd

              The Unions have no say in how many people an organisation employs or how it spends its budget, that is done to the management. To invest in flood protection schemes you have to spend money or do you expect people to work for nothing.

    • Jambo25

      The EU directive story is a blind. The Netherlands, Belgium and various other EU states do river dredging, pumping and flood protection work on a scale way above the level done in Britain. Yet they work under the same EU directives. Devoting greater resources to flood protection and ending building on the most at risk flood plains would certainly help. Local planning authorities could always attempt to stop building houses on flood plains.

  • JimmyLinton

    I thought he’d sacked himself, live on the radio. He said to davis, in response to a question about pickles, that basically politicians know absolutely nothing about running an environment agency, or words to that effect.

    Smith, being a politician and all that, clearly, in his own words, has no place in the environment agency, never mind run it…

    • Mynydd

      Lord Smith as chairmen of the EA cannot undertake any political activities.

  • Tony_E

    But no mention of the ‘policy document’ that suggested that the Somerset levels be flooded ‘more regularly’? Chris Smith said he’d never seen it, but surely that is the sole explanation of why the rivers had not been dredged – because it was policy.

  • Alexsandr

    how can we have a discussion about flooding without discussing development further upstream. Concreting over the land and taking out vegetation (like removing hedges) makes flooding worse lower down.
    Then we have a scramble to build houses that will make things worse.
    This is so simple but politicians don’t seem to get it do they?

    • an ex-tory voter

      The levels were wetlands until drained, they will return to being wetlands now that the rivers have been deliberately silted up.
      If that is Government policy, or an EU policy which they intend to implement, then the Government must announce this decision. They also have a moral and possibly a legal duty to compensate those whose lives and livelihoods are being destroyed by the implementation of that policy.

  • McRobbie

    Sadly there is so much truth in the articles, quangos are a defence mechanism for the government of any party persuasion. And there is absolutely no evidence that they are filled with expertise..it is apparent that they are filled with jobsworths put there for political ends..and its interesting to note how many were put in during labours tenure (browns boys and girls). However the problem is leaving the government minister as the buck stops here person means the civil servants running the various failing bureaucracies are adept at avoiding the blame by pointing the finger at “ministerial responsibility”. In my view the answer is get rid of quangos and return to misterial responsibility but with the caveat that should the minister be required to fall on his / her sword then the senior civil servant (and their senior team) advising him should also fall on his / her sword. Make the civil servants our servants instead of self serving protected jobs worths.

    • Slim Jim

      A very good suggestion, Sir, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. The key word you use is ‘responsibility’, something which today’s political class (including the Civil Service) are keen to avoid. Meanwhile, it’s ‘stupidity by committee’ as usual…

  • AndyinBrum

    Dredging appears to be the easy sound bite, but not particularly effective http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-somerset-flooding/

    • Andy

      Before the EA was set up the levels were managed by the local drainage boards. They maintained the rhymes, the watercourses and dredged the rivers. Did it flood like this then ?

      • Stephen

        Did it rain like this then? If you read the hydrologists that AndyinBrum refers us to, you will see that if you increase the amount of water entering the Levels, from faster run-off and from exceptional 1:100 year rainfall, without increasing the gradient to the sea, the inevitable result is more flooding than usual.

      • HookesLaw

        Yes, it’s always flooded under extreme weather. The 1947 flood line near us is about 4 to 5 feet higher than current levels.

    • an ex-tory voter

      It worked very effectively for several centuries and reports by scientific bodies who owe their living and allegiance to the “environmental lobby” do nothing to change the fact that it would continue to work effectively.
      No doubt these same “scientists” could prove that it is impossible to effectively prevent the inundation of Holland.

      • HookesLaw

        The levels were massively flooded in the 1870’s. There were huge floods in the 1600’s.
        Massive storms have always battered and eroded our coasts.

    • Tony_E

      Also how do you explain that similar reclaimed land in East Anglia doesn’t suffer much of the same issues as Somerset, apart from the fact that it managed to exclude itself from the EA remit and kept its own drainage boards in the 90s when Somerset lost its own.

      • Stephen

        1: It hasn’t rained as much either in actual volumes or as a proportion of average rainfall
        2: The river systems are much longer and have large areas of flood plain given over to winter flooding. Most winters roads are flooded; those of us who live here know which ones will flood. One road has been closed since Christmas Day. The usual suspect in my town has been closed for a week (again) and resulted in a two mile journey this morning taking 45 minutes.
        3: The geomorphology is different
        Will that do for a start?

  • Andy

    But it was the EA that decided not to dredge the rivers on the Somerset Levels, so blustering, arrogant Smith ought to defend that decision. He can’t and won’t so he should go.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Q: What happens when centralist ineptocrats get hold of a money pot?
      A: They spend it on…. salaries.

      PDF LINK
      Environment Agency
      Annual Report and Accounts
      2012-2013

      http://a0768b4a8a31e106d8b0-50dc802554eb38a24458b98ff72d550b.r19.cf3.rackcdn.com/LIT_8472_6b598a.pdf

      • PFoure1964

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    • Colonel Mustard
      • telemachus associates

        Silting is a natural process

        • During major floods the river cannot be

        contained within the normal river channel

        • Dredging can be effective for improving land

        drainage but is rarely able to prevent flooding

        So Smith is correct
        But(see below), Cameron could have done much much more.
        (T minus 8)

        • foxoles

          Funny how dredging alleviated flooding for hundreds of years in this area, then, isn’t it?

          • Andy

            Yes isn’t it. The cretin telemachus knows nothing about the land.

          • grutchyngfysch

            foxoles – Telemachus is making the (now ubiquitous) mistake of anyone without familiarity in the area: he thinks the issue is whether flooding occurs at all. Nobody on the Levels would think this – because control of flooding is part of life there and has been for centuries.

            So they make the (true) observation that dredging can’t prevent flooding – but they ignore the (also true) observation that regular dredging mitigates the effects, and reduces the length of time water is standing for.

            The EA is just as bad – they’ve been putting out about the 1919 floods – which (again, truthfully) did indeed cover a larger area. But that’s because they were the result of tidal inundation – not floodwater from rainfall. In fact, every major flooding event historically has been as the result of the sea.

            Heavy rainfall isn’t new to the Levels – but heavy rainfall that results in months-long flooding? Thank the EA for that.

        • Andy

          Funny how your mouth never silts up. You must get dredged frequently.

        • Colonel Mustard

          F minus more like.

          • telemachus associates

            T minus 8 = 8 days until our chair returns.

            We hear good reports from Ekaterinburg
            .

    • peteswordz

      “..he should go.”
      Unfortunately, that’d mean paying the puffed up turdburgler a couple million in severance pay. So instead of working his threeday week at the EA he’d get the money & be able to oil his way into another position of taxpayer funded irresponsibility, c/o one of his bum chums, for a top up. Best keep him on at the EA cleaning the lavs. No doubt he knows his way around.

    • artemis in france

      I’m no fan of Smith but conjecture if hé was ever advised by the many “experts” hé purports to have under his control that, following last year’s flooding, hé should approach the Treasury to ask for the means to fund dredging of the Levels? If hé was given this advice, did hé act on it? and if fhe did, what did the Treasury say? It seems that many within the Department of the Environment (who surely would have been in on any décision to lobby the Treasury), are firmly wedded to EU policies and would have insisted on getting permission from Brussels to dredge, which would probably not have been granted.

  • Lady Magdalene

    The Environment Agency is not bound by the rules “set down by Government..”

    It is bound by the Rules set down by the EU. Environmental Policy is an EU (in)Competence and the EU’s policy and Directives were to allow areas such as the Somerset Levels to flood.

    This catastrophe was caused – deliberately – by the EU. As Dr North explains and The Spectator keeps ignoring:

    http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84683

    Perhaps Chris Smith was admitting that the EU is now our Government.

    • Slim Jim

      Well said, M’Lady!

    • HookesLaw

      There is no EU policy there is a UN policy and its up to us to interpret it. Floods might have a bit to do with the weather.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Wrong!

        The Water Framework Directive of 2000.

        The Waste Framework Directive (WFD) of 1975 substantially amended to include dredging ‘waste’ in 1991.

        The Habitats Directive of1992 and which influenced decisions about the dredging of the levels.

        All EU.

        • OriginalChris

          Also the targets set by the EU’s Natura 2000 programme. Richard North highlights all these issues in his blog:
          http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designations/sac/ipens2000.aspx
          http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84689
          EU policy: just add water
          http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84694
          Booker: the EU floods Somerset

          • telemachus associates

            So the flooding in the Somerset Levels is the fault of the EU then.
            A couple of weeks ago it was Cameron and the Gays.
            In truth it is probably as Isabel says what the Treasury wish to prioritise.
            What we can criticize is the supine lethargy of a Coalition in the face of crisis when events get difficult.
            This is Cameron’s New Orleans and no one should be surprised.
            Cameron on his Treasury man Osborne are not leders of the Country as a whole but cheer leaders of their City friends now laid back in the comfortable thoughts that banking and the city have again come good for UK PLC>
            Well tell that to the good folks of Somerset or Tewksbury
            Lets have no more clever laying off of blame on the EU.
            (T minus 8)

            • Nicholas chuzzlewit

              Yes what we need is a load of Labour talking heads (like Chris Smith) running around and blaming everybody else. Talk of lethargy is hilarious after a 13 years of fascist Labour dictatorship where nearly 5,000 laws were passed to prevent us all from doing things but absolutely nothing of value was achieved. Labour the party of lies, lying and filthy liars.

    • Mynydd

      Lord Smith is saying the Environment Agency can only work within the budget set by the government. From what I read the government has cut both its financial and manpower resources. It is immaterial who lays down the technical rules on flood management, if you don’t have the money and men you don’t do flood protection. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

      • an ex-tory voter

        The Environment Agency is far from short of money. It’s problem is priorities, in particular the fact that it prioritises wildlife habitat as being of greater importance than the welfare of humans.
        Hence, Lord Smith’s description of their having activities as being “successful” and Baroness Young’s advice to “just add water”.

        We the people “pay the piper”, it is time we began to “call the tune”.

        • Mynydd

          Priorities are set by the government. Are you saying that Mr Cameron has been sleeping on the job and not calling the tune.

          • Colonel Mustard

            No, buy you are trying to say that. Every single comment you make here just seeks to blame the Tories and exonerate Labour.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              He’s right though. Dave has been sleeping on the job and not calling the tune.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …or rather, he’s calling the socialist tune, like the rest of the LibLabCon clones.

              • Colonel Mustard

                I distinguish between criticising Blancmange Dave as a conservative and a Labour troll criticising Dave to score tribal points for Labour.

              • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                Actually, he is a she.

            • Mynydd

              The floods are on Mr Cameron’s watch, I’m just asking what has in been doing since he was handed power in 2010 by Mr Clegg. Maybe he would have acted differently if he had won an overall majority, but he didn’t

        • Jambo25

          Its budget has been cut since 2010. Who took over the reins of power in 2010.

          • Mynydd

            That’s a simple question to answer, when Mr Cameron failed to win an overall majority at the last general election in 2010 he went cap in hand to Mr Clegg begging for the reins of power, in return for increasing the uni fees to £9000.

      • Colonel Mustard

        You should check out what is being said about this within the EA itself before writing such foolish comments:-

        “In recent news stories, Lord Smith is accusing ministers of playing politics with the floods, but as I pointed out last year in one of my most earliest posts, politics has been a key game played by management at the Environment Agency. There have been numerous occasions where management have discussed strategic drawback from critical projects with the objective of appearing to need more funding and to cause upset among constituents of MPs they don’t like. Management have allowed personal feelings to influence how they handle incidents, and have favoured certain MPs and councillors over others. This is nothing new and is a regular part of doing business inside the Environment Agency.

        As for having their hands tied by the Treasury, I presume that the abuse of working, flexitime and annual leave processes is the fault of the Treasury also? Or maybe the £31 million spent on a bird habitat instead of flood maintenance? Or how about the £395 million spent on staff (£592 million including pensions) vs £219 million on capital projects, and just £20 million on maintaining rivers.

        Seems the Environment Agency is quick to play foul when the shoe is on the other foot.

        Perhaps Lord Smith should air out his own cupboards and expose how management within the Environment Agency have used past incidents to gain favourable political positioning, how they spend significant amounts on political training for management/senior staff, PR staffing and programmes, and how management have used their positions to influence favoured MPs/councillors over others.

        Environment Agency bosses spent £2.4million on PR… but refused £1.7million dredging of key Somerset rivers that could have stopped flooding – does that include PR staff salaries and pensions? Does it include the political training given to management and senior staff? Does it include other communications programmes with the aim of influencing public and politicians that the EA have classified under another heading (other than PR)?

        UPDATED: Environment Agency boosted spending by £41m last year – so, EA spending actually went UP in 2012/13:

        “In 2012-13 the EA spent £1207.4m compared to £1166.6m the year before. It ended the year with £95.8m cash in the bank. We are told the “cuts” stopped it doing a good job on flooding. How big an increase in spending would it take to qualify as no cut?”

        A recent comment has brought home the failure at the EA – it is the EA Ops people who you see out on the ground doing the grunt work, yet they are some of the lowest paid in the organisation – Ops says: “We have 8 Environment Officers in this office who spend most of their time reading meters. Times that by 17+ area offices = 136 EOs tasked with mundane tasks getting paid £25,000+ each = £340,000 + pension, phones and lease cars = £400,00+ that could be used to pay our ops guys on the ground who actually are working their socks off. Too much waste in other departments.”

        http://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk/

        • Mynydd

          So why did Mr Cameron say in parliament that the EA had saved millions of homes from flood.

          • Colonel Mustard

            I give up. Why did he?

        • Mynydd

          What a mouthful from CCHQ.

      • Colonel Mustard
      • HJ777

        Whether the government has cut spending and manpower or not tells us nothing about whether the EA had sufficient resources to do the job. You don’t know that and neither do I.

        I do have some knowledge of the EA since I know a civil engineer who works for it designing flood relief schemes. His view is that it is a pretty inefficient organisation.

        • Jambo25

          It does tell us, however, that it has less resources than it had as the present government cut them. Incidentally the whole sorry affair seems to be becoming a bit of a slanging match between Pickles and Paterson with Call me Dave trying to hold the ring.

      • Conway

        The EA spent a lot of money on travel expenses and there was £31m for a bird reserve. Funny that there was no money for essential dredging.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      I thought this was a classy rag.
      I thought people here would think rather than spout tripe.
      I thought facts would beat making things up as you go along, here at least.

      Lady M, dear, what is a DIRECTIVE? A law – something set in stone?
      Since when?

      • Colonel Mustard

        “what is a DIRECTIVE? A law – something set in stone?”

        Pretty much:-

        Article 288:-

        “To exercise the Union’s competences, the institutions shall adopt regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions.

        A directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.”

        Thus:-

        The Water Framework Directive of 2000.

        The Waste Framework Directive (WFD) of 1975 substantially amended to include dredging ‘waste’ in 1991.

        The Habitats Directive of1992 and which influenced decisions about the dredging of the levels.

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          Send me a Dutch link, pal. You are hilarious.

          • Colonel Mustard

            What have the Dutch got to do with it? This is England and what matters here is how directives are applied here.

            You asked what a directive was and I informed you. No need to get abusive about it.

            • BarkingAtTreehuggers

              Yes, old chap. The Dutch don’t flood with EU directives but we do? How odd!
              Excuse my French but some people really do need their heads examining.

              • Colonel Mustard

                See OriginalChris’ comment below. The fact that the Dutch might flaunt EU directives is no consolation to people here where our politicians and apparatchiks have a tendency to gold plate such directives and then to hide behind them. Let’s face it, anyone who ever raises the slightest question about the EU’s activities is usually branded a ‘Eurosceptic’ which tends to generalise into pro and con rather than drill down into consequences.

                As to EA’s annual report I commented here adversely on their salary costs some time ago so it is not true to assert that I do not want to know. The lucrative quango industry in this country and the damage it is doing is of great concern to me.

                • BarkingAtTreehuggers

                  Now you’re talking.
                  I will not need to assume you wrote something because you actually did write it: the Dutch ‘might flaunt’ EU regulations. Do they? How so? No one will go after them for possibly ‘flaunting’ regulations? How about they are not flaunting regulations at all. How about they are applying DIRECTIVES in a sensible manner. How about they are funding what needs to be funded instead of talking the talk. How about they ‘might’ be doing that instead. How about this ‘our government is never wrong tripe’ ends right here, right now.

                  (…which is what I stated in my first post to Lady M)

                • Colonel Mustard

                  I don’t think you will find that many of my comments subscribe to the ‘tripe’ of ‘our government is never wrong’.

                  As to the Dutch who knows.

            • Mynydd

              Now you are good at figures, when it suits you, tell me how much is the Dutch budget for costal and river flood defences and how does it compare with the EA budget

      • OriginalChris

        The Dutch are experiencing similar problems and have just had to agree to lobbying by environmentalists backed by the EU Directives and convert a polder back into wetland in order to “counterbalance” the dredging that is necessary to keep the Westerschelde estuary open in order to keep the channel to the Belgian port of Antwerp deep enough:
        http://www.flanderstoday.eu/current-affairs/dutch-flood-polder

        • the viceroy’s gin

          It’s not ongoing dredging though. It’s a deepening of the channel.

          This story is at least straightforward, and takes place in the light of day. The Dutch and Belgians are having it out in the open for all to see, using an agreement between their governments as the starting point. If some farmers’ lands are taken, and the farmers are compensated properly for that taking, you can at least make a case that they have been made whole.

          But it is a rotten precedent, that the approaches to Antwerp are being dredged deeper, after all these years, necessitating this taking. The existing channel has served well for a long time, and there isn’t likely any absolute need to disrupt existing societal settlements to force an increased capacity and usage. The property owners need not be forced out. This is but a choice, and not necessarily a responsible one.

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