Reputations sunk by floods

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IF “money is no object” when it comes to flood relief, why does David Cameron’s grand gesture not extend to the 500 staff at the Environment Agency who still face the threat of redundancy at a time of national crisis?

IF “money is no object” when it comes to flood relief, why does David Cameron’s grand gesture not extend to the 500 staff at the Environment Agency who still face the threat of redundancy at a time of national crisis?

It is an oversight – exposed by Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions – that reveals how the reputation of senior politicians is now at risk of being washed away with the flood water.

Mr Cameron only has himself to blame for his “money is no object” statement, which he was forced to make in haste once it became clear that the authorities were too slow to call in the military and provide sufficient sandbags to help minimise the damage.

He knows he cannot deliver a blank cheque – the Environment Agency cuts demonstrate this – and Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, was far closer to the mark when he said “careful consideration” would need be given to all requests for public money.

He is right. There is still an expectation, despite predictions of flood waters becoming even deeper in the coming days, that public money is spent wisely at all times and does not exacerbate the risks in downstream areas.

What Mr Cameron should have said is that the Government will distribute available funds as quickly as possible – there is widespread anger, for example, in the West Country that its stricken rail services have still not received a single penny of the £31m promised last year to improve the resilience of the area’s transport network and the famous sea wall at Dawlish which has now been washed away.

As such, it is all the more regrettable that the posturing at Prime Minister’s Questions did not inspire confidence on three fronts.

First, there needs to be an urgent review of the role and remit of the Environment Agency, and how planned flood defences schemes can be accelerated.

Second, why did Ministers not do more to check the robustness of contingency plans before the floods? This failure of planning has led to much unease about their PR visits in pristine wellies.

Third, why is the Government’s urgency in the Home Counties and Somerset Levels totally at odds with the national response to major flooding occurrences in Yorkshire, both in 2007 and more recently?

David Cameron says lessons will be learned. He’s correct for the simple reason that this exercise now needs to begin in Downing Street as a matter of urgency.

Sir Ken’s status

The man who made Morrisons

IT is a measure of the country’s admiration for Sir Ken Morrison that there is so much interest – from shoppers and business commentators alike – in the future of the iconic Bradford supermarket that continues to bear his name. Six years after his retirement, there is now speculation that the Morrison family have contacted private equity firms to see if they can

raise sufficient finance to regain a controlling interest in the chain.

Undoubtedly, these are testing times for Morrisons – it is trailing its high street competitors with regard to online shopping and it is also playing catch-up when it comes to the opening of convenience stores. Yet, while some experts say that the firm needs to take a long-term view, others believe that the supermarket risks losing touch with those regular customers whose loyalty turned Morrisons into such a phenomenal success story. It’s a classic catch-22 situation.

Perhaps the reason that Morrisons has lost its way is for the simple reason that the current management and leadership lack the chutzpah of Sir Ken, who would turn up unannounced at a store, such as Wetherby, and ask an unsuspecting member of staff for a specific item of grocery like a jar of strawberry jam. His undercover dress – corduroy trousers and a pullover – offered no clues about his status and woe betide any employee whose response did not meet his exacting expectations.

Because of this, customers were assured of the highest standards of service – standards that are proving very difficult to maintain and which go to the root of the current challenges.

Another injustice

Obfuscation of Hillsborough police

AS the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy approaches, it is totally reprehensible that there are still some retired police officers – albeit a small number – refusing to co-operate with the new inquiries into the handling of the disaster, and also the subsequent cover-up.

Coming just six weeks before a new inquest begins into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, such obstructive behaviour by ex-officers is indefensible and suggests that some individuals do not understand the seriousness of the allegations facing the South Yorkshire constabulary.

In this instance, Keith Vaz, chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee, is right. Those former officers refusing to give evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, or who have failed to make their notebooks available to the inquest, should be compelled by law to do so. If they still refuse, those concerned should be stripped of pension entitlements or other sanctions. It’s that important, not least to the families of “The 96”.