All cost and no benefit – the modern public service?

Last night I attended a meeting of around 100 angry and worried local residents. Their story could be the story of so many in modern Britain. Most of them work hard, pay their national taxes, pay their Council tax and pay their water bills. All they want is that the authorities maintain the flood defences properly, and strengthen them if needed. The authorities seem incapable of doing either of these things.

I and my constituents are given the run round every time we complain. The Environment Agency, the Water Company and the local authority argue over who is responsible in any given case. They claim they do not have any money to do what is needed. They have plenty of money to pay highly paid executives to tell us nothing can be done, plenty of money to get legal and other professional advice to avoid responsibility, plenty of money to plaster websites with maps and stories about how many of my constituents homes are at risk of flooding, to put up their insurance bills.

I have tried to make it easy for them. If it is water from the local river causing the flooding problems, as in many cases it is, that is the responsibility of the Environment Agency. If it is foul water from the wastewater system that is the Water Company’s responsibility. If it is surface highways water that is the Council’s responsibility. What people expect is for public bodies and near monopoly companies to know and discharge their responsbilities. Somewhere in their massive budgets they ought to have reserved some cash to keep the drains, culverts and grilles clear. Somewhere there ought to be some cash to clear the river so it flows sensibly. And somewhere in the capital budgets there should be some improvement money to add the extra culverts, bunds and sluices we need to handle the extra water run off the new developments are creating.

The government fails to take proper account of the impact of extra development when it overrides the local Council and gives planning permission for more tarmac and concrete. The government fails to issue the right priorities for the Enviroonment Agency. The Agency fails to make strong enough respresentations against development in some cases where it will make the flooding worse.

No-one seems to want to spend any money from the huge sums they receive from the taxpayers on some hours with a digger to clean existing culverts and cut whatever new ones are needed. No-one wants to spend modest sums on throwing up some bunds around suitable fields to take the surplus water when the run off is too fast.

Next week the three responsible authorities are all going to meet together to ask what can be done. I guess that’s progress. I have been telling them what needs doing for years. It is not difficult, and much of it is not that expensive. The Dutch learned to keep the more challenging waters of the North Sea out of their country hundreds of years ago without the advantage of modern JCBs and strimmers. Why can’t we manage something a bit easier in 2009? Why do we get so little that we want from all our taxes?


  1. Donitz
    April 18, 2009

    Flooding was one of the main reasons why I joined my local Parish council.

    Our lane often floods because the surface drains are never(were never) cleared.

    Once on the Parish Council the subject was raised with the County Council. Hey Presto within a week the drains were cleared!!!

    It’s who you are/who you know, unfortunately.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      April 18, 2009

      In the interest of public disclosure I should say Donitz is the member for Atlantis (North)

      But on a serious note, unlike Donitz who has had real, serious, wealth creating jobs and knows how to deliver, many of the appointees to the council despite mega salaries, simply cannot deliver having had no practical experience in the real world. Hence the obfuscation and responsibility avoidance, and thus, why things don’t get done.

    2. Stuart Fairney
      April 18, 2009

      I should also perhaps add that a man with a name like that can never be too worried by floods, he must have a submarine or two left over somewhere?

      1. Donitz
        April 18, 2009

        I should have been Fuhrer from the start, but know one would listen.

        1. Stuart Fairney
          April 19, 2009

          Let us never ignore the wisdom (or for that matter literacy) of ‘Know one’ (sic)

          no-one ??

  2. Obnoxio The Clown
    April 18, 2009

    Why do we get so little that we want from all our taxes?

    Come on, John, you know the answer to this: it’s because the government knows better than us what to spend our money on.

  3. alan jutson
    April 18, 2009

    The reason why there is argument, is that all of the parties involved do not want to pay for a solution, if there is the smallest chance that another organisation could be partly responsible, and would thus need to contribute some money out of their budget.
    You can imagine the discussion can’t you.
    When rain falls on the land it goes into culverts, drains, and the ground for run off and the like, before it goes into some rivers, So ownership of the rain can change, when it goes from culvert, drain to river etc.
    As you correctly say, residents then suffer whilst the big organisations just talk (if you are lucky).
    Planning is also the issue here.
    You will be familiar with the Cinema and Park and Ride complex to the West of the Winnersh triange roundabout which is skirted by the River Lodden.
    This area was a designated flood plain, and surprise surprise it still floods. the cinema has been built just above the flood level but the park and ride has not, so it is not unusual for it either to be closed (when flooded) or for many cars to be written off when it rises too quickly for action to evacuate as it did 2 months ago.

    Further South along the Loddon, The Council are looking at granting Planning Approval for more houses again on flood plain.
    We are informed that this is Government policy otherwise the Council will be fined for not meeting their quota on new build.

    As you correctly say all agencies need to get together in a commonsense way to resolve these issues, but will it happen, I doubt it whilst all have been given different targets by different government departments.
    So residents will continue to suffer and pay the price.
    Culverts, Rivers, Streams are simply left to overgrow, perhaps some work here for the Community Service offenders although this may be seen as too dangerous for the poor things.
    Health and Safety would probably stop it.

  4. Jeremy Poynton
    April 18, 2009

    We live near a river in Somerset. Two years ago, the Environment Agency did some flood work on the banks of it down the road from us. I recall looking at it, and thinking “That won’t work”.

    Nor did it; earlier this year, the river rose over 12 foot and flooded the road beside it, lapping at the doorsteps of the houses on the other side.

    Two months later, the EA were back, to do the job properly. I went over, as they were setting up, and said to the workman what I note in my first paragraph.

    He said “I know. That’s what we told our bosses, but they ignored us”.

    I would guess that this cost the taxpayer somewhere in the region of £100,000, with the cost of heavy plant, materials and labour.

    Pissed away. But who cares? There’s always more taxpayers’ money, after all.

    Isn’t there?

  5. James Strachan
    April 18, 2009


    The public sector has layers and layers of officials who do nothing except take in each other’s washing.

    I have great respect for public sector workers in the front line – like the teachers in the school where I am a Governor.

    But there are whole layers of central and local government that need to be trimmed down in size and forcefully reminded of their responsibilities.

  6. Paul Cohen
    April 18, 2009

    I wrote to WBC two years prior to the flooding of 2007, after attending a meeting at Shute End where various experts predicted the possibility of flooding due to the run off from Woodcray Manor, overwhelming an inadequate culvert under the rail line. The representation of the Council that day were a disgrace, being unprepared and having mislaid necessary documentation.

    I asked at this time, and have on several occasions since for the information with regard to permissions for the excavations and the dumping of thousands of tonnes of spoil on the golf course there over a three year period, but WBC decline to answer and have now said that they will not respond, and I should take this up with the Ombudsman! What a dereliction of duty – the contours and levels of this area have been altered drastically, and will have affected the volume of run off, WBC are involved but won’t admit it, so where do we go from here if the local authority abdicates it’s responsibiliy?

    Reply: I suggest you write to Councillor David lee, the Leader of the Council and get him to take it up.

    1. Paul Cohen
      April 18, 2009

      Spot on article – will do as you suggest.

  7. Colin D.
    April 18, 2009

    Your last sentence is the key one “Why do we get so little of what we want from our taxes?”
    For years, Labour politicians have been strutting around proudly telling us how much they have put into the NHS, education etc and drawing comparisons with how much the Conservatives spent. Any fool can spend any amount of someone else’s money. The way to stop their posturing is to demand they justify the return on the investment. Was the end result in proportion to the money put in? They haven’t a clue. Truth is, vast sums are simply wasted or used to replenish the troughs at which the politicians and their acolytes feed so greedily.

  8. Denis Cooper
    April 18, 2009

    As the local authority is the democratically elected body, maybe it should have the statutory duty to prevent flooding in its area, and the delegated power to order the other two to carry out whatever works are reasonably necessary to achieve that.

  9. Alfred T Mahan
    April 18, 2009

    This is inevitably what happens when government gets complicated.

    Politicians want to make a difference (sometimes genuinely for the best) but when there are vested interests they can often only tinker at the edges. In doing so, and trying to appease everyone, they make little ‘fine-tuning’ changes here and there, and quickly things become ever more complicated, with obscure lines of authority, too many people being involved, and consequent seizure of the system. Because there is no overall cost driver when everything is paid for by the taxpayer, there is no incentive to cut through the crap and get things done. In short, the system disappears up its own rear end in ever-decreasing circles.

    That’s clearly what’s happening in the flood defence problem in your constituency, John – and you know it as well as I do, probably better in fact, so is your final question rhetorical or merely a cry of despair?

  10. Adrian Peirson
    April 18, 2009

    I can tell you exactly what is going on here, in order to accept it you have to imagine that the world is run ( behind the scenes of course ) by deranged psychopaths.

    New Houses are built, on flood plains, largely without fireplaces, our once rich fishing waters have been destroyed, they are now working on our farming.

    The worlds elites have been consolidating their power, Takeovers with Large International corporations, the Mass media, food shopping, Fuel etc.

    You have to try to put yourself as a criminal Psychologist, what they want is us Herded into cities, they do not want us to be able to go outside and find firewood, fish or food from local farmers, they want a Captive ( Imprisoned is more apt for what they have in mind if you care to look around you ) Market, flooding the countryside is one way they intend to drive the remaining masses into the cities, no Veg Gardens, no firewood lying around etc.

    The Flooding is Deliberate, if Drains do not block as you say, they will not come to unblock them and as you have just said they Deliberately caused flooding in a lot of cases.

    Look at bus services to the country, Deliberately run down, Look at the recent postal / bus service cut on the News in Scotland.

    Tell me I’m wrong, what they are doing, slowly, in a drip drip fashion is they are herding the masses into cities so they can be controlled TOTALLY in a Polices state, we are to be chipped, any dissenters will have their chips turned off, no food, no fuel, no travel.

    You may not believe this now, but eveything ‘They’ do will fit this pattern.

    ‘They’ think of ‘us’ in the same way as a Farmer thinks of his Herd of cows or sheep.
    They are doing this solwly on a drip drip basis, it is about control and Monopolising the earths resources and using that to attain TOTAL GLobal control over the Masses.

    It’s nothing personal you understand, they are simply maximising their profit and control.

    1. mikestallard
      April 18, 2009

      No – you are wrong about the psychopaths. They would never be elected or allowed to get away with it.
      The trouble is well meaning do gooders who think they have the answer and who are determined to push their ideas through.
      Allow me to give you a list of well meaning do gooders: President Wilson who introduced War Socialism into the USA. Benito Mussolini who introduced progressive Fascism into Italy. Gordon Brown whose care for the poor and dispossessed is rivalled by nobody. Adolf Hitler who brought Germany back from the dead. Josef Stalin…….
      The problem is this: what happens when you disagree with the do gooder?
      And remember, they are all honourable men.

  11. Steve Cox
    April 18, 2009

    Some years ago I was living in Aberdeenshire. An outbreak of cryptosporidiosis occurred, with many people falling ill through drinking tap water. I have a chronic medical condition which means that, whereas cryptosporidiosis would mean a very nasty stomach upset for a healthy person, it would probably kill me. So I contacted the local Council as well as the water authority, but none of them would tell the truth and kept passing the buck. Even my local GP would not commit herself to the fact that this was a potentially lethal outbreak of cryptosporidiosis. I realised then that the public authorities are deliberate liars only interested in covering their own backsides. In my view, even the medical profession was tainted by cynical denial. To be safe, I started drinking bottled mineral water, and to this day that is the only water I will drink. I even make my tea with it, so little faith or trust do I have in the powers that be.

    P.S. it was finally confirmed that the outbreak was indeed cryptosporidiosis, and that it originated in the Banchory water treatment works, which had to be subsequently massively upgraded. I still wonder why the local Council, water authority, and even my doctor, would take any chance at all with my life? Presumably because they are more interested in saving face than they are in saving lives?

  12. Brian Tomkinson
    April 18, 2009

    So little works properly in Britain today. Most organisations have a senior management team paid enormous sums but failing to give customer satisfaction. Far from improving, things seem to continually worsen.

  13. Ruth
    April 18, 2009

    In my part of Lancashire the Environment Agency has got its act together on flooding. They started to dredge the river beds (at our insistence), and then we had a flood and they suddenly woke up properly. They rescinded consent for building on a flood plain (they should never have agreed in the first place) so the planning consent was removed from that piece of land, they have made a number of improvements downstream and have other plans in the pipeline. They installed a bigger monitoring station in our village and do a really good job. It does help that we are placed at the confluence of two rivers which become one of the biggest in the area, but a lot of lobbying has been required. Still, I have nothing but praise for them.

    Contrast that with United Utilities (or No Utilities as I like to call them), who decided to tell residents that our sewers were not adopted and so they had no responsibility for them, it was our problem. They did not seem unduly concerned that raw sewage was flowing into the river. The strange thing is we are next door to a sewage works run by them which doesn’t put sewage into the river! The sewers were adopted in 1910 (as was proved) so they were then forced to spend lots of money rectifying a problem which could have been prevented if they had cleared them years earlier, as had in fact been done once upon a time in the interval between 1910 and the 1980s.

    In the last year, they have caused to me and others a loss of electricity for two days, a loss of my gas supply for three days while they were trying to fix the electric (they went through the pipe twice), and burst water pipes in my house and two others as they ran the water through a pipe without a pressure regulator. They have no concept of “customer paying for our services” and try desperately on every occasion to find someone else to deal with the problem or alternatively some reason why they can’t. They are shocking, but there is nothing we can do about it, except, in my case, boycotting any company which has any connection with them!

    In this case, the public body is good and the private one bad. I do think a lot of it is to do with the calibre of people locally and their willingness to engage with the community. Good luck with your efforts.

  14. no one
    April 18, 2009

    all the idiots working for speed camera so called partnerships should be sacked with immediate effect

    as should the biased scientifically invalid idiots running the road safety industry in this country

    hammering the hard working folk of this country for driving safely if modestly over an arbitary limit is not doing road safety any good whatsoever

    needs a radical rethink

    its just an orwellian nightmare so much government and policing without the consent of the people

    so badly wasting public funds

  15. Lawrence Bracewell
    April 18, 2009

    Have a close look at the practical experience of the senior management in all public service and you will find the answer John! You will find that the vast majority are from outside the organisation that they are supposed to manage with very little practicle experience and are good for nothing but obfuscation,buck passing and trousering large salaries,bonuses and pensions! The next obvious question should be “how did they get the Job?” The answer is “The Old Boy/Girl network” in all its various guises. In the pre growth/global/modernisation/privatisation/spin/vote rigging/ era we had natural progression in organisations with promotion by dint of effort and experience when experience meant a long time learning the job under the supervision of proffessional oversight. All this has long gone ,youngsters come out of college/University? with a management diploma/degree? and before you know it are in management roles in public service organisations with very little knowledge/experience and zero respect from the workforce, check it out John it is all out there or read Private Eye , that will give you the real facts.

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