Friday, 1 January 2016

Why Sir Philip should break his silence

There's been a lot of criticism this week of Sir Philip Dilley, chairman of the Environment Agency, for basking in the Barbados sun whilst his staff fight the floods. Nor has public regard been enhanced by EA claims that he was at his London home.

But does it matter?  We don't expect the EA chairman to be filling sandbags, driving a rescue boat or even allocating staff to jobs. The EA doubtless employs skilled people to do all that. Sir Philip is only at fault if he's neglecting his duty. So what is his duty during this crisis?

I think it's two-fold. Firstly, he should act as a sounding board for the chief executive - the man who actually makes the key decisions. But second, and more importantly, he should seize the moment to explain to government, press and people why we keep facing "unprecedented" floods which are nothing of the kind and what needs to be done about it.

Of course there's no great secret about either matter. The causes are climate change, El Nino, foolish agricultural policies, building on flood plains and neglect of flood defences. The required actions follow directly - more rigorous support for climate change mitigation, changes in planning rules and the agricultural subsidy regime, more flood defences and a rethink about the real carrying capacity of our land.

It's not difficult to understand but it is hard to get a government committed to austerity and shrinking the state to listen. That's why we need a strong message from the chairman of the EA. And that's why he needs to be here - making the case and communicating the message.

His silence is a neglect of his duty to the public; and merits criticism