The Right Person for the Job?

The Environment Agency of the United Kingdom does an important job and some say that it does its job badly. If you live in the Somerset Levels you will be one of the people who say that the Environment Agency has done its job badly because it has not protected people from flooding in the way that the environment agency is supposed to protect people from flooding.

It is not surprising that there has been extreme flooding in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland in the past few months. The flooding has been entirely predictable. I have been one of the many people warning about the increased risk of flooding (and in other places the increase risk of drought and record high temperatures) for many years, even before I started writing this blog. I do not expect the Environment Agency to take much notice of the likes of me but they should take notice of the increased risk of flooding which has been written about and predicted by many official bodies. Whether you like it or not the risk is increased because of climate change and climate change seems to be happening at an increasingly rapid rate.

Governments have always thought that climate change is a threat since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and brings with it other threats such as flooding. In these circumstances you would have thought that when it came to appoint somebody to chair the environment agency, the government would have appointed someone with experience of geography, engineering, hydrology, meteorology and similar skills.

No doubt the Environment Agency has access to people with these skills but it is particularly important that the chairman has detailed understanding of these matters. It is the chairman’s job to direct and also to be able to understand the advice that he is being given.

That would at least be a sensible view to take. However, it does not seem to be the view that the government takes. In 2008 the government appointed as chair of the Environment Agency a chap called Chris Smith. Mr Smith had been an MP for 20 years reaching the pinnacle of being Secretary of State for culture media and sport under Tony Blair. He was not, in my opinion, a particularly effective Secretary of State.

As these things go so they went with Mr Smith. He was ennobled (well not really – he was appointed to the House of Lords under the grand title of Baron Smith of Finsbury) and no doubt that with all retired politicians it was felt that he still deserved to be paid from the public purse so he was appointed chair of the environment agency earning more than £100,000 a year for a three-day week. Perhaps it was felt that Mr Smith’s degree in English and background in the arts and sport would have helped him understand the environment and stuff like flooding.

The salary is not particularly relevant. If a person is worth £100,000 a year for a three-day week then a person should be paid that but what is relevant is that it was felt that the job of chair of the Environment Agency only demanded three days’ work every week. It seems to be that the wrong person was appointed to this job in 2008 probably for the wrong reasons.

Well, the results are entirely predictable environment agency is in a mess: it is not protecting the people of the United Kingdom, which is its function and purpose, and we are now faced with the rather unedifying sight of Mr Smith wandering around the Somerset levels in the floods, no doubt in his Wellington boots no doubt, with David Cameron, saying how bad the flooding is.

Mr Smith makes no apology for the failure of the Environment Agency to protect people from flooding. He does not think that he has done anything wrong. Obviously climate change is not his fault and it is not his fault that the government has not allocated sufficient funds to protect people from flooding and it is not his fault that he is probably completely unfit to carry out the work that needs to be carried out at the Environment Agency but it is his fault that he accepted a job for which he seems to be unfitted.

2 Responses

  1. Enter the term and faction which is called “Common purpose” who would put a football manager in charge of a doctors surgery and what does one get.

    Then place a true Articipher in charge of his seasoned profession and see what happens next.

    Science needs no apologies, it is error alone which needs the support of government, truth can stand by itself.

  2. A story about our hidden and immediate environment.

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