Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Why politicians secretly love the Environment Agency

‘I’ve kept my counsel up to now,’ said Chris Smith, loftily, when he appeared on the Today programme. Perhaps by the end of the interview, in which he managed to distance himself from previous policy pronouncements while defending his staff to the hilt, he wished he’d kept his counsel too. Those opening words suggested that the Environment Agency chief was about to unleash some terrible truth against the politicians taking aim at him, when in fact all he could tell listeners was that it was the Treasury’s fault… sort of.

‘I have to say I’ve kept my counsel up to now about issues like government rules about what the Environment Agency can spend and what it can’t spend. But when I hear someone criticising the expertise and the professionalism of my staff in the Environment Agency who know more about flood risk management – 100 times more about flood management than any politician ever does, I’m afraid I’m not going to sit idly by.

‘The Environment Agency is bound down by the rules set by the Government so when someone says that they followed the advice of the Environment Agency, what they actually were doing were following the Treasury rules that were laid down that say how much we can spend and can’t spend on any individual flood scheme.’

As Smith explained in his Guardian article, the Treasury laid down funding rules for the EA. So in Smith’s mind, it’s the Treasury’s fault. Eric Pickles thinks it’s Chris Smith’s fault. But regardless of who is right about which group of people mucked this up, it is right, really, that politicians should get the blame for this.

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