“Independent” bodies can cause worse problems than elected Ministers


In recent years there has been a strange vogue for give more government decisions and executive action to so called independent bodies. Apparently this has polled well. Why not trust the experts, instead of asking an amateur Minister to preside over the policy area and sift the professional advice in the Ministry and from outside?  Surely, people have argued, the experts acting in a non political manner in a quango will do a much better job?

It is high time more people questioned the logic of this. The truth of course is that in a democracy no area of policy or government action can be given permanently to an independent body. A free Parliament and Ministers always have the right to intervene, to demand a change of policy from the body, to change who is on it, to change the law it enforces, or even to wind it up. Leaving aside the vexed issue of the EU and its powers, no quango in the UK is sovereign. All know that Parliament and the elected government has many ways of influencing them or changing their personnel and powers. The EU of course presumes to direct both quangos and Ministers, but that is a different subject we have often discussed here.

It is also true, however, that all the time the main political parties are agreed that a given area should be run independently, it can be. This independence can continue for quite a long period. It is only interrupted if there is a serious crisis brought on by the way the quango acts, or if there is political change which requires the elected Ministers to intervene or change the way the quango operates.  Public opinion may be the catalyst for forcing change to the Agency, because the public may get fed up with the consequences of the actions of the independent body. Parliament is then the public’s safety valve, able to intervene and change things.

Two of the biggest examples of so called independent bodies in recent years have been the Bank of England and the Environment Agency. I have often commented before on how the Bank was overruled at the height of the banking crisis it and the FSA had managed to preside over and exacerbate. The elected officials intervened to get interest rates down when the Bank was not going to lower them quickly enough. The Labour government changed the powers and duties of the Bank, and so did the incoming Coalition government, reflecting the public disquiet about the conduct of policy. It was during the period of maximum independence for the Bank between 2001 and 2008 that we had the worst banking and boom/bust crisis of the modern era. The Bank, far from being able to manage and dampen the cycle, made it worse.

Now we see a similar problem with the Environment Agency. It turns out that it has been following a policy of allowing flooding to occur in parts of the country where elected politicians wish there to be a policy of managing and controlling the water. Recent Ministerial intervention is seeking to secure the change of policy many members of the public want. Far from taking politics out of water management, the Environment Agency seems to have put them in with a ferocity we rarely see about this topic.

The Environment Agency should have more technical expertise than Ministers on how to manage water and the environment. Ministers are still needed to tell them what the priorities are, and how big the  budget is. Allowing them to be independent for too long has produced an Agency following priorities that are not the priorities of all those with drowned homes, roads, schools and farms.


  1. Arschloch
    February 10, 2014

    And what actually is Dave doing about it? In fact lest we forget, Osborne writing in the DT in June 2006 said “I fear that much of this regulation has been burdensome, complex and makes cross-border market penetration more difficult. This is exactly the wrong direction in which Europe should be heading and it threatens the global competitiveness of the City of London.”. So presumably a Conservative government would have reacted to the events of 2007/8 just as incompetently as Nu Lab did?

    Nothing changes Dave is still contracting out part of his foreign aid effort to one well known charity of experts, who mysteriously, just as much as though they might relieve suffering, seem to indirectly to spend a lot of my tax money informing me about the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians and the evils of one particular multi national coffee shop chain etc

  2. Arschloch
    February 10, 2014

    Off topic but still an issue of the day. I have just finished an all night sitting, not in a subsidised bar, but looking after patients. Can the nurses and junior doctors that I have worked with put the costs of a cleaner on our expenses? I think its just as vital to the pursuance of our jobs as it is to a minister’s. Its just that we are all very tired and we do not fancy doing the hoovering when we get back home.

  3. Gina Dean
    February 10, 2014

    Holland is below sea level and has not had serious flooding since1952. They keep their defences up to date. Why is it we feel that birds and animals are more important than homes and businesses. This is what comes of centralised quangos.

  4. Jeremy Shiers
    February 10, 2014

    Focusing on EA misses the real story. EA is simply setting targets set by DEFRA to create wetlands. The guidance for the policy came from Natural England, EU and ultimately pressure groups such as RSPB.

    For whatever reason the idea hard sea defences dont work, and should be replaced with wetlands, took hold in UK academia and government and spread around the world like some kind of malign virus. So now it is not a surprise this is what people think as it is what they are taught at school and university.

    (reference to named individual left out as I haven’t time to check ed)
    Around 1973 there was a plan to build airport on Maplin sands near Southend. The airport was never built but much of coast was surveyed as preparation. In 1988 another aerial survey, Fiona Burds compared photographs and declared saltmarsh was being lost. In 1998 another survey and rate of saltmarsh loss had doubled. SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE. Defra set EA a target of recreating 100ha/year by flooding farmland.

    Since then both EA and NE have independently conducted saltmarsh surveys and found either saltmarsh is growing back or the rate of loss has slowed to about zero. EA noted something should be done about DEFRA target but as far as I know nothing has happened yet. It seems most likely the early surveys were just inaccurate.

    EA staff on ground just get on with their jobs doing what they’re told. It seems the senior layer are just their to defend EA policy by whatever means necessary. What other purpose is their for having ex politico like Chris Smith as chairman? I doubt it’s for his environmental knowledge.

    etc ed
    In summary you need to question DEFRA about targets which have been set for EA.

  5. Mike Stallard
    February 10, 2014

    And the next domino to fall?
    How about Ofsted?
    Or how about the Charity Commission?
    Both utterly abused by the last Labour administration.

  6. Mick Anderson
    February 10, 2014

    There are two problems with the SW1 interpretation of creating a quango and putting “experts” in charge.

    The first is that they put their political friends in charge; the second is that they seem to think that a noisy person with an axe to grind is an (independant) expert.

    Politics has caused the problems. It’s a shame that the only thing available to solve that problem is More Politics.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 10, 2014

      Anyone who actively seeks political (or quango power) is probably most unsuitable to hold it.

  7. Lifelogic
    February 10, 2014

    Ministers are the only protection to ensure that the public (who are the customers & are paying for the service) get any real benefit at all. Without sensible ministerial input they become mere milk cows with large pension schemes and run entirely for the benefit of the staff. And/or the quangos attempt to extort fee, licence income and phone line income from the public.

    Ministers are certainly needed to tell them what the priorities are, how big the budget is and what utility is actually expected in return for the budget.

    It is never hard to find (the wrong sort of) expert, who will tell you what you want to hear (for the right fee) especially where it profits them personally anyway. Perhaps the advice that doing nothing (and then spending all the cash on the head office, the top staff and their pensions) is the best thing to do. This approach perhaps defended for “environmental” reasons maybe to protect the bats, birds, butterflies, slow worms, water rats or newts. Pretty, photogenic or cuddly animals/birds are best for this purpose as the charities know very well.

    If you look at excess medical operation statistics for Caesarean sections, prostate & breast cancers by different county this is rather easy to see. If you pay enough people will find a reason to justify them taking you money and even operating on you. Fashions take hold, professional bodies, the media, the BBC, politicians all go with the flow in the interest of their “expert” or other members.

    The catastrophic, exaggerated man made global warming field is the perfect example. Cheered on (even now) by the Met office, the BBC, the EU, the royal society, the coalition, certain University grant seeking departments and nearly every quango and charity around. We have thus covered the country and the seas in intermittent, white elephant (bat and bird exploding) wind farms at vast & pointless expense. Just at a time when gas prices are likely to fall hugely.

    In my experience the scientists and directors, who start to involve themselves in largely political positions at places like the royal society & the CBI often go off the rails to follow the prevailing political fashions. Ignoring the facts, logic and distorting the science. The sort who seek this type of political committee work and take consensus positions, are very often the wrong’uns for any genuine, independent advice.

    Give me the Richard Feynman, Richard Lindzen, Freeman Dyson types every time please.

    1. uanime5
      February 11, 2014

      If you look at excess medical operation statistics for Caesarean sections, prostate & breast cancers by different county this is rather easy to see. If you pay enough people will find a reason to justify them taking you money and even operating on you.

      What exactly is easy to see? The UK tends to have more Caesarean sections than other developed countries because mothers in the UK are more likely to be older or fatter (both of which have been shown to increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and child birth).

      Rates of prostate and breast cancer are influenced by various things such as working patterns (working at night increases the risk of cancer) and diet (some foods increase the risk of cancer).

      Also why would anyone want an operation to remove breast or prostate cancer if they don’t have either?

      The catastrophic, exaggerated man made global warming field is the perfect example. Cheered on (even now) by the Met office, the BBC, the EU, the royal society, the coalition, certain University grant seeking departments and nearly every quango and charity around.

      Your forgot scientists and scientific research.

      Just at a time when gas prices are likely to fall hugely.

      Gas prices have fallen from their 2008 levels but energy companies didn’t pass on the savings.

      In my experience the scientists and directors, who start to involve themselves in largely political positions at places like the royal society & the CBI often go off the rails to follow the prevailing political fashions. Ignoring the facts, logic and distorting the science.

      Care to explain why no one notices this while peer reviewing their work. Could it be because this doesn’t happen?

  8. alexmews
    February 10, 2014

    thx John

    We are in a half-way house here that is unsatisfactory.

    So far the issues with the management of the Environment Agency are staying within that QUANGO and not directly hitting the Minister. This is wrong. The agency is QUASI-autonomous. The Government, via the Minister, is responsible. Ed Davey (is it him?) is so far doing well dodging the bullet. This is wrong in my view. The Government have not outsourced their responsibilities here.

    Separately – you state in your opening paragraph that independent agencies need experts. This is manifestly not the case, not only at the EA, but on most Quangos (though clearly not the BofE which you also mention). Leading a quango seems like a lucrative make-work programme for the great and the good; most of whom are uniquely un-qualified for the role, working part time, and being paid very well indeed. Lord Smith is but one example. I see he is fighting back today against what he feels is a witch hunt in the media / by politicians. It would be better if he defended his decisions, management and track record.

    AS I said – we are in a half way house. Neither do we have Government accountability for their decisions; nor do we have the openly political, and arguably more democratic process seen in the US where the President appoints agency heads directly and every 4 or 8 years these folks are swapped out when the President changes.

    The situation today is wholly unsatisfactory and, as we see with the EA, broadly incompetent and unaccountable.

    1. uanime5
      February 11, 2014

      The Environment Agency is accountable to DEFRA, so Owen Paterson or Erik Pickles is responsible for them. Ed Davey is the minister for DECC.

    2. APL
      February 11, 2014

      alexmews: “The Government, via the Minister, is responsible. Ed Davey (is it him?) is so far doing well dodging the bullet. ”

      Baroness Young, is wandering around with an innocent look on her face, trying to look inconspicuous. She was in charge of the agency until 2008 embracing all the EU initiatives with gusto.

      But wait! She’s a baroness, which means she sits in the Lords, and as we found out with Patten at the BBC trust, the commons can’t demand a member of the Lords to appear before them and give account of their behaviour.

      How cosy!

  9. petermartin2001
    February 10, 2014

    I don’t think I have ever been in more agreement! Yes, of course, democracy may not be perfect but if government are going to make mistakes then at least they are held accountable for it in the normal democratic way.

    If there’s just one quibble it would be to blame the BoE for the events leading up to 2008. They may not have been faultless but they didn’t cause the crisis. The crisis was of Global proportions and all advanced countries have to accept their share of responsibility for what happened.

    The economics profession too. The Queen famously asked why it hadn’t foreseen the looming crisis in 2008. It was a good question but she hasn’t received any satisfactory explanation. I did hear that one Professor at the LSE likened it to an Earthquake, shrugged his shoulders and said they couldn’t be predicted. That’s quite disingenuous. At least Geology does have a theory as to why Earthquakes occur even though their exact timings are not currently possible to predict.

    Orthodox economics doesn’t even have that!

    Reply The 2008 was not global – just the US, Uk, and certain European countries. They all made the same Central banking mistakes – they allowed bank balance sheets to mushroom too far up to 2007, then withdrew far too much liquidty in 2007-8 causing the crash.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 10, 2014

      Indeed and even now the banks (especially government owned ones) are still sucking back the financial blood from industry.

      And not for any real reasons related to risk. Just due to new liquidity rules that are now far too tight, having been far too loose.

    2. Richard1
      February 10, 2014

      Addition to reply: and compounded the error by using taxpayers money to bolster the equity of bankrupt banks instead of the market solution of insisting shareholders and creditors bore the cost.

    3. Denis Cooper
      February 10, 2014

      As I have pointed out ad nauseam, responsibility for the prudential supervision of commercial banks had been removed from the Bank of England and transferred to the new FSA. To save JR the trouble of editing my comment as on previous occasions I will just say that the FSA “did not do a good job”. Therefore you are right to say that the Bank of England should not be blamed to the extent that it has been, but for that reason rather than the one you advance.

      Reply I included the FSA in my criticism. The Bank however retained responsibility for the solvency and liquidty of the banking system!

  10. Lifelogic
    February 10, 2014

    “The Environment Agency should have more technical expertise than Ministers” – well perhaps, but surely mainly in bat conservation, PR, EU politics, slow worm experts, excessive remuneration systems, fashions in the environment industry, managing high pensions for senior staff, expensive phone line services and getting endless adverts for them onto the BBC weather forecasts!

    Rather too little perhaps in dredging, digging ditched, managing rain fall, drainage, pumping and sea defence design.

    The PR has rather exploded for them though.

    1. Richard1
      February 10, 2014

      There is a plague of environmental leftists embedded in many of these organizations,particularly the Environment Agency. The agenda pursued has been informed by green leftism as much as by any expertise.

      Note that the BBC has taken to talking about ‘extreme rain’ rather than the customary usage of heavy rain. ‘Climate Change’ rather than incompetence is blamed by the Environment Agency and the Met Office for the Somerset debacle, amplified by the BBC.

      Any fool can see that if you don’t maintain ditches and dredge rivers you get flooding. This happens for this reason every year on roads in East Anglia afterany heavy rain, where for most of the past few years these agencies have been warning us of droughts.

      1. lifelogic
        February 10, 2014

        Indeed is it not simple maths. The water in the flood area increases or decreases by a simple rule. (Water in – water out) per day = increase in water in the flood area per day.

        You either stop the water going in or you dredge and pump it out or you have a new lake.

        Reducing World Co2 concentrations by 1/10,000+ 0f 1% is about a sensible as suggesting that playing Mozart all day will help. At least the Mozart might cheer people up.

  11. rick hamilton
    February 10, 2014

    When a Minister has no technical expertise in the area he controls, or indeed experience of anything of substance outside politics, he is likely to allow the experts to push him in the direction of their own vested interests.

    If the Chancellor asks the BoE what to do about failing banks it is hardly suprising that they recommend bailing them out with taxpayers’ money. If he were a seasoned businessmen, hardened by years of operating in the real world of competition, he might have decided to let them go bankrupt which is what should have happened as long as depositors were protected. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work.

    There is much to be said for the US system of well experienced people being drawn from business and industry to head up major government departments. You can argue of course whether getting the former head of Goldman Sachs to be Treasury secretary was a good thing – it wasn’t for his former rivals Lehmans – but the man knew exactly how the system worked from the inside.

    Margaret Thatcher was a trained scientist and tax lawyer and I dare say she saw off a few ‘experts’ by just asking them the sort of searching questions that such a background equipped her for. Since many of the challenges nowadays are technical, it’s time to get some top qualified engineers to become ministers as they did in China. Engineers are trained to work things out from first principles: they try to find the best solution using facts instead of forms of words.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 10, 2014

      Indeed what sensible person, with any scientific or logical training, would belief someone who claimed they could tell us the climate in 100 years time, but not for two weeks on Wednesday.

      Nor could they tell us the Suns output in for 100 years, the volcanic activity, the technical innovations, wars and population changes over the same period? But still could predict the catastrophic climate for 100 years.

      It simply defies common sense.

  12. Boudicca
    February 10, 2014

    “In recent years there has been a strange vogue for give more government decisions and executive action to so called independent bodies. ”

    Yes. Primarily the EU.

    Environmental Policy is an EU (in)Competence.

    DEFRA and therefore the Environment Agency, take their Orders from Brussels, not Westminster.

    The catastrophe in the Somerset Levels has been caused by the EU and its Directives on deliberate flooding of wetlands. Possibly these have been gold-plated once again by the EU Quislings in British puppet-governments and Civil Service. But ultimately, the EU is to blame, as Dr Richard North explains very clearly here and in subsequent articles.


    We can’t regain control of “independent agencies” and the policies carried out by Quangos, because most of them are there to enact EU Policy and EU Directives.

    We have to get out of the EU first.

    1. cosmic
      February 10, 2014

      It’s a more complex relationship than Brussels churning out directives in isolation and bodies like the EA dutifully following them in their own incompetent way. There’s the question of British input into the drafting of the directives. It looks as if the EA had decided on a particular direction before the directives and then the directives appeared confirming that direction. Coincidence?

      So law is formed in the background, which Westminster has to operate in the context of, and which the elected government can’t easily alter. We are no longer masters in out own house.

      Yes, leaving the EU is necessary to untangle the knot and create some level of accountability, but there’s clearly more to it than just leaving the EU

      1. Denis Cooper
        February 10, 2014

        But we don’t want that “more complex relationship” which makes it even more difficult to say who is to blame for some cock-up.

        It’s bad enough trying to sort out the responsibility for failure when it’s just a domestic matter involving various government departments and various agencies and their various advisers and contractors and local councils and other bodies within the UK, without having the EU system of transnational government adding a whole new dimension of complication and confusion.

        And it is highly irritating when something goes wrong and the advocates of that novel system of government, which amounts to internal government by external treaty, will almost as an automatic reflex immediately deny that it can possibly have anything at all to do with their beloved EU.

        1. APL
          February 13, 2014

          Denis Cooper: “even more difficult to say who is to blame for some cock-up. ”


          The Commons has shirked its responsibility by introducing these agencies, and another ‘coincidence’ the EU has moved into the vacuum so caused.

  13. peter davies
    February 10, 2014

    The problem as I see it is that so called professional institutions appear to have been stuffed with political appointees at their head which dilutes the idea of removing something from politics.

    I find it hard to understand that how an agency like EA which has a £1.2 Bn PA budget only spent according to their website £40M last year – now of course blaming treasury rules.

    This whole thing needs to be unpicked – who does what including why they need so much funding for so little when other countries manage to do the same on a fraction of the funding and staff. This agency has got New Labour written all over it.

  14. English Pensioner
    February 10, 2014

    “The Environment Agency should have more technical expertise than Ministers”
    I wonder just how much technical expertise the EA actually has, particularly when it comes to dykes, rivers and flooding. We now know, thanks to your blog, how many highly paid people are employed at the top of the EA, but how many hydrologists, engineers and the like are employed? Being cynical, one suspects that there are far more ornithologists and zoologists looking after wildlife than there are engineers and other experts looking after the infrastructure and people.

  15. Roger Farmer
    February 10, 2014

    If the minister prefers to operate through quangos, then ensure that they are professional in the relevant disciplines involved. In the case of the EA they need to be civil engineers with expertise in river and coastal control. They should not be used as a dumping ground for has been politicians or people from outside groups with their own agenda. Their way you end up with an ecstatic duck population and property and people up to their waists in water.
    The minister is responsible within his government for policy and the quango for carrying it out. Having the odd civil servant in the quango to help guide it around the serpentine ways of government might help but on the whole it should be professional. This of course begs the question as to why you need a ministry as well.
    In the case of the EA it has been shown to be anything but professional. Subject to the questionable aims of the green lobby, in fact up until recently chaired by it, and working against the population on the ground, who are now inundated with water. The minister gives the impression that he has only just woken up to what he has been presiding over.
    If it was the policy of the EA to encourage flooding, as it appears to have been, should it not have been a subject of public debate in the areas concerned and in the country as a whole before they went ahead. Should they have had a programme of agreed financial compensation in place for those affected. It appears that the EA just let it happen with no forward planning and now we have the result.

  16. acorn
    February 10, 2014

    Oh we are in a pickle. It is so sad to watch, from the inside, this once great nation gradually but surely, falling apart. Imagine being on the outside. Say, standing on top of the Swiss Alps with a bunch of investors, looking around 360 degrees, asking where to put their money?

    There is this bunch called the Eurozone with one currency. Great idea and could really fly if they could only organise a federal Treasury, to implement a fiscal (tax and spending) plan; turn its Central Bank into a proper sovereign fiat monetary regulator; get rid of a couple of layers of management, including the very expensive, no value added, mickey mouse European parliament.

    Then there is that island bit called UK, not sure about them. The bit they call Scotland seems to want to declare UDI. The other bit wants out of the EU we think, but we won’t put money on it. So we advise investors not to put their money on it either; stay clear till the end of the decade. If you have current investments in the UK, we suggest you sweat the assets for cash until they break, and then catch a 747 out of there.

    Certainly don’t invest in up front expensive assets like nuclear power plants. Don’t get involved in anything which is likely to become a political football, because the UKs self serving politicians, are experts at kicking someone else’s head into a crowd of voters.

    BTW. The Conservative Party is unfortunate to be in office at this time. But perhaps it is natural justice, that the laissez-faire neo-liberal ideology of the eighties and nineties, should be falling apart now. Privatised energy companies ripping us off, having captured the “regulator” from the numpties in the State machine.

    The botched privatisation of ten Regional Water Authorities, themselves a cut and paste version of the River Authorities, led to the National Rivers Authority and eventually to the Environment Agency. Political interference, continual reorganisation and privatisation, has shattered a once a coherent and logically managed national water resource, into a discontiguous “multi agency” mess.

    Some systems are natural monopolies, unfortunately laissez-faire neo-liberals are blind to such.

  17. Alan Wheatley
    February 10, 2014

    We hear from an interview with the head of the Environment Agency this morning on Radio 4 that the agency has a published policy relating to flooding that is different to that of its head. In fact, he aid he was not even aware of this published policy until it was quoted to him live on-air!

    No doubt the wheels of management within the Agency will now be turning very fast, and it will be interesting to see who cops the consequences!!!!!

    One – nil to the BBC on this occasion, don’t you think?

    1. Alan Wheatley
      February 11, 2014

      Having teased what I think is a pretty sensational admission from Chris Smith, the BBC have failed to follow it up on any of the news and current affairs programmes since. There is lots of twaddle about minor issues, but this is BIG policy, it is relevant to government, and is being ignored.

  18. Alan Wheatley
    February 10, 2014

    If Chris Smith believes, as he says, that there are insufficient resources available to protect all areas liable to flooding, and that consequentially it will have to be decided which areas shall not be protected, then he should be initiating and leading a national debate on the matter. Such matters are so significant that they can not be left to a mere quango to decide.

    What he seems to be doing is to use this line of argument as justification for the Environment Agency falling short of its responsibilities.

  19. oldtimer
    February 10, 2014

    The “experts” seek to impose their views from what they perceive to be their positions of authority. We hear every day, on all kinds of topics in every nook and cranny of our lives, what we must do or not do. Often they seek new laws or regulations to impose their opinions on our behaviour. Welcome to the world of Big Brother, 1984 and Animal Farm.

    The majority of the political class are complicit in, some even welcome, this. The evolution of EU powers through new treaties, directives and regulations plus the development of agencies staffed by “experts” has only served to reinforce the trend. Accountability has been diffused, Parliament has been neutered, common sense judgements have been abandoned. We are run by an unaccountable bureaucracy.

  20. Bert Young
    February 10, 2014

    When one of the Independent Agencies needed a new leader where specific skills and expertise were called for , it advertised widely and searched the globe for the right person . Ed. Carney was produced from a narrowed list of contenders and has , since his appointment , brought a breath of fresh air to the running of the Bank of England. I suggest the same mechanism should be employed when selecting any leader for one of the independent bodies . The process did not take long and , probably , cost no more than normal . The running of the Enviroment Agency calls for particular expertise and the present dilemma highlights the need for this process to be employed .

  21. William Long
    February 10, 2014

    A big part of the problem here is that the doctrine of ministerial responsibility seems largely to have gone out of the window (Mr Harper being an honourable exception). Yesterday we had Mr Pickles laying the blame for the Somerset floods at the door of the Environment Agency, a quango which is the responsibility not of himself, but of a ministerial colleague. Was he saying that that colleague should resign? I think he would have been shocked that anyone should think so but not so long ago that would have been the implication and it still should be.

    1. oldtimer
      February 10, 2014

      I believe that the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act gives the EA the statutory right, by section 38, actually to create flooding, raise the water table or to create coastal erosion for a wide range of reasons. Locals only get to be “consulted” about this. This Act was rushed through Parliament in the dying days of the last Labour government before the general election. It is the EA that decides these matters, not the Minister, as its Chief Executive Paul Leinster informed a select committee recently.

      The “experts” are in charge and must take responsibility – though the more one reads and discovers about this debacle the less “expert” they seem to be.

    2. Chris
      February 10, 2014

      It has been reported that Mr Harper was apparently summoned to Downing Street and effectively told by Cameron to go. Not quite the simple picture of an honourable resignation?

  22. Robert Taggart
    February 10, 2014

    Oneself blames your goodself Johnny ! – and others of your ilk…
    The political class be tired of all the grief that comes their way for matters which they (particularly Ministers) be responsible – even if only in passing.
    Ergo, they hive off responsibility for these matters to quangos – thereby giving themselves breathing room when things go wrong. They can themselves then blame others for the problem.
    The fact that so many ‘burnt-out’ politicos go on to Chair these quangos beggars belief – even allowing for the ‘subsidy’ that goes with the ‘job’ – they must think it will never happen to them !

  23. alan jutson
    February 10, 2014

    One persons expert, is another persons political appointment.

    Such appointments often conveniently made to deflect away any areas of responsibility from certain politicians.

    Too few real experts, too many yes men and women, paid too much money for too long.

    The Nation now has a shortage of real practical engineers, who are grossly undervalued by those who sit behind expensive desks.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 10, 2014

      The trouble with experts is that they often become very good at working out what the holders of the purse stings wish to hear. Then they duly oblige.

  24. behindthefrogs
    February 10, 2014

    “Ministers are still needed to tell them what the priorities are, and how big the budget is.”

    It is precisely this interference by ministers that has stopped the EA doing the dredging and other flood work that they thought necessary.

  25. Lindsay McDougall
    February 10, 2014

    We should never forget the role of the FSA in approving “independent” financial advisors, particularly in the field of pensions. If your pension pot is less than £250,000, you are advised to buy an annuity, in spite of the fact that this is completely crap advice. If it is more than £250,000, you are given the green light to get a SIPP (Self Invested Personal Pension). If a financial advisor doesn’t comply with this guidance, he doesn’t get approved. We all know that this system exists because the large insurance companies and pension funds are forced to invest a proportion of their funds in government stock. Ultimately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for the way it works.

    An “independent” financial advisor charges you 3% of your pension pot up front for his bad advice and 0.5% pa thereafter. Are you allowed to deal directly with the fund providers, cutting out these unwanted middlemen? No, you are not. Has the system changed since the FSA became the FCA? I doubt it.

  26. lojolondon
    February 10, 2014

    Good article again, John, but once again I fear you are too gentle on the agencies above. It is quite clear to those of us who live in the country that the EA is in place to provide employment to Labour supporters, and to prevent people from living in pleasant places. The EA’s pitiful spending on clearing waterways cannot possibly be blamed on a misunderstanding, it is their primary function and has been wilfully neglected. A similar example would be if the Ford motor company spent £590 on salaries and pensions for every £20 spent building cars.

    The decisions made by Management in the EA has brought the country to it’s knees and I think they are guilty of gross dereliction of duty – tantamount to sabotage.

    etc ed

  27. uanime5
    February 11, 2014

    I thought the problem was that ministers were limiting how much the EA could spend on things such as dredging, even though this may increase the risk of flooding.

    Reply The Environment Secretary asked them to do some dredging as he thought they were not doing enough.

  28. Lindsay McDougall
    February 12, 2014

    A Labour Lord is chairman of the Environment Agency. Such people always rank urban areas above rural areas, and bums on seats above both.

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