Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Flooding crisis – the blame game and the EA


My recent piece on the flooding crisis elicited the following contribution from David P of Sussex. I don’t necessarily agree with all he says, but I thought that it deserved an airing.

David P writes: -“Your blog post on this topic is most interesting. But have you considered that it is not so much the lack of money or people that is the problem, but more likely the allocation of them? Too many chiefs and not enough Indians? Good and capable people in the wrong jobs? I would suggest as an old farmer who has made his living from the land, that everyone in the EA employ wants an office job - nice and warm, better wages and higher status, so they try to climb up the ladder. Now I would suggest that for every person in an office job there should be 100 manual workers, four of whom should be supervisors or gang masters if you prefer. That’s where it goes wrong in every organisation and it brings them to the point that if it is a business it becomes top heavy and unviable, or if it is a public authority we all have to pay too much for the implementation of the service it provides and the service deteriorates to below an acceptable standard. We need hands on the ground, not in the air when it comes to flooding.

“By the way it’s not only the United Kingdom that has this problem; it’s worldwide in the west, particularly Europe. So I dare to say that, for the benefit of the community running properly, too much education can be a bad thing and a bit more manual graft and guts might just get things in proportion. Only the very best brains should have access to the ladder. A mini ‘cultural revolution’? A few less Lord Smiths and a few more Mr Smiths with old fashioned wheelbarrows and shovels? Perhaps the invention of paper has had some questionable benefits - by allowing more people than is necessary to spend their lives in centrally heated offices and achieving very little.”

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My thanks to David P for this contribution.

I have some sympathy with the view that we need more people in the field and fewer in the office. I have long felt that many organisations in the public sector (especially in local government, where I worked for some years in the earlier part of my career) are ‘over-managed’ and under-staffed.

There may be a need to re-balance the EA, and I wonder whether it might be advisable to revive the National Rivers Authority as a separate organisation, putting under it the sewerage and drainage functions currently carried out by the privatised water companies, so that the whole problem of land drainage is put under a single roof, in an organisation that can concentrate exclusively on tackling this issue in all its aspects. I also wonder whether this authority ought to be given powers to direct refusal where development is proposed on flood plains.

This is perhaps the answer to those critics who questioned the relevance to town and country planning of my piece on the flooding crisis. The answer, I suggest, is that it has a great deal to do with planning, and the need to ensure that new properties are not vulnerable to flooding is clearly going to be of increasing importance in the future.

© MARTIN H GOODALL (with acknowledgements to David P)

1 comment:

Tim said...

Flooding is about planning. Each area has a flood plan describing costs, probability effects etc. The EA flood plan 2012 describes the dramatic potential effects of climate change in areas now inundated http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Leisure/_CFMP_Parrett_2012.pdf.

Primarily I'm on this forum because I follow planning law for my own interest, but I have to declare I do work for the EA, I'm not a manager, I work on industrial installation regulation in an area team, sometimes in the office, sometimes out of the office.

Like many public organisations, the EA is much more lean than it was 10 years ago. No doubt, working on-the-ground is valuable, but so is working with other organisations, planning maintenance and modelling cost/ benefits; and many of the office staff are helping out now, manning helplines, staffing incident rooms and working out and about. By the nature of the organisation it attracts a certain sort of person, most colleagues really wanted to work for the EA and that is reflected in the culture of hard working motivated people.

We have a crowded island, reclaimed land, competing interests and, climate change. Councils are still removing flag paving and spreading tarmac, householders are still digging up gardens and putting down impermeable concrete, and recent development has occurred in areas subject to flooding. There are some difficult choices ahead; no doubt how we develop land and use the planning system will be looked at with a new perspective with an interesting debate ahead. (Nothing in this article is authorised or reflects the view of the environment agency).