The idea that resigning after a catastrophic event will make the person resigning seem more credible or the event less catastrophic is clearly naïve. The flood damage in various communities in the North West and North East from this Christmas will be unchanged by the resignation of Sir Philip Dilley, who has served as Chairman of the Environment Agency since September 2014. The Press and Politicians alike were of the view that he should go, and so he was left with the choice of resisting this pressure or going because they said he should. Neither approach was likely to be pleasant or easy. Neither response would help those trying to dry out their homes. It would be fascinating if Elizabeth Truss or David Cameron had chosen to resign. After all, unlike Philip Dilley they both are clearly responsible for the decisions taken to withdraw funding from some of the flood defences over the last Parliament. It is clear that David Cameron has plenty of experience of being on holiday when things go wrong, and whilst he may have been a bit more ‘honest’ about his location and reason for being there than Philip Dilley, his return from holiday was no quicker. It seems that there are some elements of this story which do offer wisdom for people who might follow Sir Philip in the future:
- A ‘part time’ role which takes up 4 days a week and pays 4 times the average national wage from public funds should not be treated as something that is unimportant or lacks any sense of responsibility.
- Promising to work 6 or 7 days a week if a crisis occurs, and to be “substantially full time” as Sir Philip is reported to have said when appointed, is not a statement to forget or ignore when a crisis does occur.
Although I have never held such a high profile job, I have been a Chair of a charity that faced a number of challenges on a much smaller scale throughout my tenure. As a Trustee I was paid nothing for my time. However being willing to respond to crisis went with the role and that was understood by all other people in the mix.
Whilst issues of leadership are under scrutiny, one must wonder if someone from G4s will resign following the investigations into the Medway Secure ‘Training Centre’ which was exposed last night on Panorama? The executives in G4S need to be as accountable as those who made decisions about flood defences in the EA. Never mind G4S what about the Government, whether it be from OFSTED who are the inspectors of this system, or the Ministry of Justice. Once again when things go wrong, Michael Gove and his team are unable to provide someone for interview. Someone needs to take responsibility for the abuses that were taking place in Medway, and for all we know at other establishments managed by G4S using the same techniques and with the same culture. We are told that the Company tried to prevent the film being broadcast, arguing it was illegal and unauthorised. Perhaps someone could stop the Company from running such establishments using the same argument. We need leadership in many areas of our public life, resignation is clearly not something that deals with every failure, but some sense of accountability is vital, as is the need to change things for the better for residents and young people in the care of the state.