Tom Richmond: Ministers should tell the truth about inept officials

THE coincidences kept coming '“ just like the floods '“ when the West Indies-based Environment Agency boss Sir Philip Dilley and HMRC's much-criticised chief executive Dame Lin Homer fell on their swords.

Sir Philip Dilley, who resigned this week as chairman of the Environment Agency.

Two public servants whose notoriety has attracted much opprobrium, both chose to resign within hours of each other on Monday – I’m sure the sudden death of the music superstar David Bowie was just a coincidence of timing – and both then received gushing testimonials from their political masters.

Not only were these testimonials nauseating from the perspective of taxpayers, but they actually showed the extent to which Cabinet Ministers are in denial about the poor calibre of leadership in the public sector?

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Why couldn’t Ministers have just told this pair that they weren’t up to the job and undeserving of the honours which make a further mockery of a tarnished system which is supposed to recognise and reward community heroes rather than those in elite positions who are clearly not up to the job?

First to go was Lin Homer who was given the unfortunate sobriquet ‘Dame Disaster’ after receiving a damehood in the New Year honours. This is the 35-year career public servant who presided over a postal voting scandal in Birmingham which a judge said would have “disgraced a banana republic” before her tenureship of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate culminated with John Reid, the then Home Secretary, describing the department as “not fit for purpose”.

Was she given her marching orders? No chance. She then headed the UK Border Agency – MPs accused her of “catastrophic leadership failure” – before being put in charge of the tax office where she came under fire for securing only one prosecution from a list of 6,800 UK-related secret Swiss bank accounts provided in 2010 by French authorities.

Even though the tax office does now answer 90 per cent of calls, some sort of improvement, Chancellor George Osborne’s judgment surely failed him when he paid this tribute: “Lin Homer has made a real contribution to public service modernisation and transformation.” Really?

To add insult to injury, Dame Lin walks away with a reported pension pot of £2m-plus – the ultimate reward for failure.

It’s the same with Mr Osborne’s protégé Elizabeth Truss after the beleaguered and bedraggled Environment Secretary praised the contribution of the aforementioned Sir Philip who had to be dragged back from his Caribbean bolt-hole – after taking the principle of ‘working from home’ to a new level of ridiculousness – when Storm Frank left Yorkshire, and the North, under several feet of filthy floodwater and victims enduring a living hell.

The words spouted by Ms Truss confirm that this political non-entity, another individual promoted beyond their pay-grade, is living in a parallel universe. “He has ably led the Environment Agency through some challenging times and leaves it a much better organisation, as shown in its excellent response to the recent flooding,” she said. Really?

A former business guru to David Cameron, this is a so-called leader who chose to resign from his £100,000 a year role because he objected to the media scrutiny and because he did not expect the EA chairman “to be available at short notice throughout the year, irrespective of routine arrangements for deputy and executive cover”.

I’d like to think this is the last we’ve heard of Sir Philip and Dame Lin. I fear not. I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before both are elevated to the House of Lords because the Government continues to put its faith in people and cronies who are out of their depth rather than those leaders capable of doing a half-decent job.

TALKING of resignations, David Cameron says he will not be standing down if voters ignore his advice and opt to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum.

I totally disagree. The Prime Minister’s authority will be so diminished, both domestically and internationally, that his only option will be to pack his bags.

I’m afraid the Tory leader is playing with semantics when he says: “The question on the ballot paper is very clear: it is stay in or go. It is not this politician’s future or that politician’s future. My authority depends on holding the renegotiation, holding the referendum.

THE electoral collapse of the Lib Dems was self-evident when the House of Commons debated rural funding this week in a rare nod to the countryside – there was just a solitary intervention, which can only be described as perfunctory, from one of the party’s few remaining MPs.

This is significant – this issue has always been a cause célèbre for the Lib Dems and rural MPs were the backbone of the Parliamentary party under the late Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and, more recently, Nick Clegg.

Yet, even though the attendance of MPs from all parties, was poor, Graham Stuart – the Tory MP for Beverley and Holderness – is emerging as a formidable champion for rural areas thanks to his groundbreaking work highlighting the extent to which countryside communities are shortchanged.

His fairness crusade has the respect of his colleagues as he pointed out that planned spending cuts in Hull of 14 per cent are nothing compared to the 28 per cent reduction planned for the neighbouring East Riding. “How is that right or fair?” he asked.

More power to Mr Stuart – Britain, and politics, will both be better off if there are more independent-minded MPs prepared to ask difficult questions of their own party. It’s just a shame that so few get the chance to put their theories to the test.

A PLAQUE at Aireborough Leisure Centre rightly points out that the Olympic-winning triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee began their remarkable sporting careers there. How disappointing that the opening hours are having to be reduced, albeit marginally, because of Leeds Council spending cuts. I understand the authority’s predicament, but I thought the justification for hosting the 2012 Olympics was that opening hours at such facilities would be longer, not shorter, in order to inspire a generation.

I DIDN’T realise Yorkshire had become the 51st state of the USA until I read this sign at the new entrance to Leeds Station: “In case of high winds this bridge will be closed please use alternate exit.”