Flood chief should be in hot water over his absence

Monday 4 January 2016

Picture: Twitter/@Daily_Express

When the Somerset Levels flooded in 2014 the Environment Agency came out of the crisis very badly.

Chris Smith - then chairman of the agency - failed to visit the area until six weeks into the flooding. This lack of interest or concern infuriated the people whose homes, farms and businesses had been destroyed. Chris Smith duly left the agency - under pressure - and a new chairman, Sir Philip Dilley, was appointed.

When Sir Philip was interviewed soon after taking over he agreed that his new job was a "figurehead position that is crucial for perception". Nevertheless he managed to be absent when Prince Charles visited Cumbria on December 21 to express sympathy with this year's flood victims.

Since then the level of misery has risen as inexorably as the water spreading across the country. But Sir Philip in his "figurehead position" has not been around. Instead he has been on holiday in Barbados.

No one should begrudge the man a Christmas break. But his failure to come back until the middle of this week (given the misery that destroyed the Christmas breaks of so many other people less fortunate than him) is callous and extraordinary.

This man is a high-ranking public servant paid £100,000 a year for a two to three-day working week. British taxpayers - especially the thousands flooded out over the holidays - have a right to know where the man who spearheads a crucial agency is in a crisis.

Disgracefully the agency at first prevaricated. They said Sir Philip was "at home" for the holidays. It only emerged later that "home" just happened to be in the Caribbean.

Sir Philip said that "whether I'm there in my Wellingtons isn't going to make much difference". Oh really? Then what is the point of you? You are wealthy. You could easily have afforded to grab a flight home for a few days, couldn't you? You owed it to the people of Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire to get up there, yes, in your wellies, to listen to them and hear their concerns and fears and act on them. And you didn't do that quickly enough and you should be sacked. Today.

Read more in Richard and Judy's column for the Daily Express.
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