Derek Mead: Somerset Flood Summit 'wasn't worth the effort'
The air has been full of the sound of bleating from local councils about how short of cash they are and how the Government is starving them of funds.
But it never ceases to amaze me how they continue to find money for events and projects which – if times are really as hard as they make out – anyone in their right mind would strike off the list as totally unnecessary.
From town-centre improvements to appointing officers to jobs which are utterly pointless and simply wouldn’t exist in the private sector, the waste goes on. And last week there was another classic case: the Somerset Flood Summit organised by Somerset County Council.
Someone has to ask what this event cost, what with the travelling expenses and the officer time devoted to it – and for what? Apparently so that people who have been affected and aggrieved by the catastrophic flooding on the Levels could have a chance to air their views.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
It’s all a bit late to start having summits and workshops about the flooding, because MP Ian Liddell-Grainger and others have already been banging on ministerial doors. There’s been a debate about the issue in Parliament. Submissions have already been made about the disgraceful role of the Environment Agency in all this, as part of the Government’s review into its workings and that of its partner in crime, Natural England.
We don’t need summits and seminars; we need a public inquiry to discover whose decision it was to halt dredging on the Levels, a move which it is now generally agreed has been the root cause of the catastrophe that has unfolded over the last 12 months.
And in doing so has cost the country dear. Not just the farmers, the taxpayers. For the floods have wiped out years of effort on behalf of the Levels wildlife – work for which the country has shelled out tens of millions of pounds in compensation payments to farmers and to various wildlife agencies and charities.
Cast you mind back to the early 1980s when the Wildlife and Countryside Act came in and farmers were suddenly the villains of the piece. Report after report accused them of wrecking the wildlife interest on the Levels by intensifying agriculture. Overnight all kinds of farming operations were banned. Farmers were portrayed as being the enemies, rather than the guardians, of the countryside.
So how come the Environment Agency can get away with causing an immense amount of destruction – far worse than any farmer was ever guilty of – to the environment it is supposed to be protecting simply by claiming it has no money to dredge?
If it slimmed down its staff, closed some of its offices, scaled back some of its grandiose schemes, it could soon have the money.
It could probably have found it long ago. Dredging could have restarted. But Natural England prefers it if the Levels remain undrained – because it’s better for wildlife. And what any public inquiry must examine is whether the Environment Agency has ultimately destroyed hundreds of acres of prime farmland and the wildlife they support merely by dancing to the tune played by its friends in Natural England.
That is the suspicion lingering in the minds of every farmer affected by the flooding. That is the issue which demands some straight answers from both agencies – though the chances of a local-authority “summit” eliciting them are ludicrously remote.
Derek Mead is an entrepreneur dairy farmer from Weston-super-Mare.