December 2015 was one of the wettest months in British history. Towns across the north of England and Scotland flooded and thousands of people were saddled with the spectre of rising water levels across the holiday period. Whilst northerners spent their Christmas surrounded by flood water, the Chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir Philip Dilley, spent it surrounded by much more tropical currents, in Barbados. As thousands began to clear up their muddy and ravaged homes, Mr Dilley thought it was proper and decent for the man in charge of flood prevention in the UK to be on a Caribbean island. Not only did Environment Agency flood prevention measures fail, but Dilley also refused to return to the UK to coordinate the response in person. At best, his behaviour was negligent. At worst, it was cruel and cowardly.
Well, today, Sir Philip Dilley resigned. Not because he recognised that his conduct was unbefitting of a tax-payer funded, unelected official with a responsibility to ensure that peoples’ homes do not flood and that, if they do, a quick recovery operation is launched. Rather, he resigned because the government requested for him to be available at short notice in future – something that surely should be taken for granted, considering that his job involved responding to forces of nature. Dilley believes that such as expectation is "inappropriate in a part-time, non-executive position". He also says that the media scrutiny regarding his failure to come back to the UK to properly perform his job was "inappropriate."
Dilley claims that, whilst in Barbados, he was constantly on the phone organising a response to the flooding. Yet, responding to a crisis on the phone is fundamentally different to actually understanding the situation on the ground, and listening directly to citizens’ concerns. If the Prime Minister or the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, had been in Barbados during the crisis they would have been dragged through the streets by the press. I think it was commendable that Liz Truss spent Christmas day convening a meeting of COBRA to discuss the government's response to the flooding, whilst Dilley continued his holiday.
It should be the job of the Environment Agency chief to swiftly respond to natural disasters and crises such as flooding. Dilley said in his resignation statement that he was "qualified" to deal with flooding, but surely anyone who is "qualified" in the area of flooding will know that sudden flooding tends to be common in winter, and that an rapid response – involving the full commitment of all the relevant authorities – is necessary to, quite literally, stem the tide.
Regardless, Dilley has now departed and can focus on what he believes is significant in life. We can only hope that his replacement has enough common sense and general decency to do their job whenever families are desperately in need of their assistance, and to do so in Britain, not on holiday.