Monday, 10 February 2014
Flooding crisis – the blame game begins
I once likened the august figure of Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Jabba the Hut. I was not thinking of his shape so much as his general manner and demeanour, and the way he deals with people with whom he doesn’t happen to agree. It seems that Jabba the Hut has been at it again this weekend in the remarks he made on the Andrew Marr Show about the Environment Agency and their leader, Lord (Chris) Smith. It was an unedifying display of political bile.
As Chris Smith diplomatically pointed out this morning, the Environment Agency has been operating within very tight financial constraints imposed by this government. They were prevented from dredging the Somerset Levels by the strict limits that had been placed on their spending by their sponsoring department DEFRA, who in turn were constrained by the dead hand of the Treasury. In fact, the EA has been forced to make significant economies by the insane insistence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on cutting government spending to the bone. Staff numbers in the Agency have been unavoidably cut (and significant further reductions in staffing levels are planned), which was bound to impact on the Agency’s ability to carry out continuing flood defence work and, in particular, ongoing maintenance of existing flood prevention schemes. Ministers have been quick to point to the authorisation of substantial additional capital spending, but it is the cuts in revenue spending – spending that is vital in order to maintain existing facilities and equipment, and the staffing costs of servicing those needs - that has hobbled the EA, and prevented it from doing its job effectively.
So stand up, Osborne!. You, boy, are the miscreant who is ultimately responsible for this debacle. The plain fact is that government has to find enough funds to ensure that essential public services are maintained. If the Treasury feels it necessary to reduce government borrowing (and there are some very eminent and well-respected economists who have told us repeatedly that this is entirely unnecessary – we are in a very different position from some of our European neighbours in this regard), then the obvious answer is to raise more in taxes. We can’t have it both ways; if we want decent public services, we have to pay for them, and that means paying higher taxes. If we are not prepared to pay those taxes, then we shall face deteriorating public services. The extent of the flooding on the Somerset Levels due to the main rivers not having been dredged is just one example of the results of such a policy. Unrepaired roads, even perhaps uncollected rubbish, may well follow.
The trouble is that Bertie Wooster (aka ‘Dave’ Cameron) and his pals from the Drones Club really have no knowledge or experience of the lives of the people affected by their doctrinaire drive to ‘shrink’ the public sector, and reduce taxes (especially for those poor souls who were having to pay 50% on their top slice of income and are still forced to pay a 45% top rate). I rather hope that the recent and, unfortunately, continuing flooding crisis might perhaps persuade people, if not this toffee-nosed government, that we need to spend more, not less, on public services of all kinds, and that the present government is headed in entirely the wrong direction.
© MARTIN H GOODALL