With slithering Chris Smith fighting for his job, the gloves are off and the cuts are being blamed for the fact that the Environment Agency is an over-staffed, badly managed graveyard for Labour figures of little note. 10% of the Environment Agency’s staff were cut, but that still leaves them with 11,200 pen pushers. Equivalent quangos in the rest of the world are much smaller, the Environment Agency for England alone has more staff than the Canadian, Danish, French, German, Swedish and Austrian equivalents. Combined. Only the US Environmental Protection Agency has more staff, (15,913 versus 11,200) hardly surprising given the US is some eighty times larger than the UK with six times the population. Last year this billion pound lefty-fest spent £395 million on staff (£592 million including pensions) compared to £219 million on capital projects, and just £20 million on maintaining rivers. More was spent on PR last year than on dredging – £2.7 million.
So what are the bosses up to? Well most of the board manage less than half-a-dozen days a month for their filthy lucre. Usually non-execs on boards have grey hairs and relevant knowledge and/or experience, yet this rule clearly does not apply to the EA. What is it that makes former Culture Secretary Chris Smith a suitable boss? When he’s not in charge of rivers and forests he’s a part time lecturer on the creative industries. Perhaps he could commission a play or a poetry reading to cheer up the people of Somerset. When he’s not wasting taxpayers money at the EA, he’s meddling over at the Advertising Standards Agency. Token Tory Peter Ainsworth was not a very good Shadow Defra minister and seems to be loitering around here while he holds out for that coveted Peerage. And what in Larry Whitty’s experience at the General Municipal Boilermakers & Allied Trade Union or as a former General Secretary of the Labour that qualified him for his seat on the board?
What exactly do all these staff do? One whistle-blower claims:
“it doesn’t help that 99% of the staff, mostly Environment and Flood Officers, refuse to do standby or volunteer to assist with flooding emergencies. This is despite it being in their contract. It leaves us undermanned and ill prepared, but managers won’t do anything about but claim they need to employ more staff. Really, management just want to expand their kingdoms”
As the Speccie leader this week says:
“Steadily, the Environment Agency has become a law unto itself. The idea behind its creation was to allow it to operate free from political interference. They now form a deeply politicised government in exile, with an incompetent but self-revering hierarchy that voters cannot dislodge. Nothing has more vividly conveyed the failure of the Environment Agency during this crisis than the lamentable public performances of its current chairman, the former Labour culture secretary Lord (Chris) Smith. His weak, half-shifty, half-arrogant interviews have shown him up to be a man wholly out of touch with the reality of the havoc his agency’s policies have wreaked. His blatherings about a choice between protecting ‘front rooms or farmland’ sums up his failure to understand the countryside, and the fact that most people have looked after both for generations. He is due to step down shortly, which is a shame: he ought to be fired for rank incompetence. But the reckoning should not stop there. It is now clear that the Environment Agency has become a threat to the countryside it was set up to serve. It ought to be dismantled, and its responsibilities shared out among smaller bodies which are much more obviously fit for purpose.”
It’s the drip, drip, drip that will get him.