Two studies offer them critical governance contexts for Cumbria’s floods. Firstly, DEFRA’s 2002 commission to the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) to report strategic solutions for flood management. Clearly written and book-size Learning to Live With Rivers documented a key finding: Catchment Management is critical and should be aided by computer modelling that captures complex catchment water systems. However, it noted that the EA were resistant to computer modelling. Mathematical modelling first proved successful in the 1970s, but still not applied. Secondly, Sir Michael Pitt’s flood review in 2008. This adjusted the government’s flood management architecture. EA were given Strategic Lead. Councils became Local Lead Flood Authority.
Pitt’s restructure sounded confusing on paper, with two organisations appearing ‘in the lead’; an architectural flaw, like two spires in awkward symmetry atop a church roof. The EA had not built a strong strategic management ethos. Putting councils as front-line leaders appeared to add a leaderful edge to the EA leviathan (11,000 staff). But, last week, in the moment of truth, the council turned to the EA to lead on the ground. And the EA applied their sticking plaster methodology. Has the leopard changed its spots, Select Committee Chair Neil Parish MP asked of EA CEO Bevan last month. But for the EA flood management is not a core function. Their 2010 Carlisle flood barrier was a design/build project, not a performance built system informed by world class river behaviourists and the like. It is similar to taking a family saloon off-road driving. It will break as there is a difference between tarmac and dirt tracks. But the EA struggle to see the difference because they are structured and led not to.
The Carlisle Flood Investigation Report we saw last week absented data from flood specialists. Five months have passed in which researchers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology could have swarmed the catchments, management researchers analysed standard operating procedure efficacy. The Carlisle Report document was not referent to any critical reports or the years of specialist data accrued by previous companies. Its approach stood in isolation. No inclusion of terms of reference, policy contexts, report authors’ qualification in flood management. Schoolboy and girl errors. There appear to be no formal extensive commissions to flood specialists. Primary data gathering is ad hoc and piecemeal, and inaccurate. The public meetings asked did respected global firm CH2M, cited as helping produce the report, whose brochure was reprinted, spend any time in Carlisle or area at all? The meeting presenters did not know, with the implication CH2M may not have site visited and had minimal involvement. The lack of scale, urgency and rigour is heartbreaking news for victims. The EA has spent £48m severing contracts with its senior management from 2011 onwards. The new leaders are the lower ranks given field commissions. They are out of their depth and learning on the job. At victims’ expense.
14 years after the ICE findings the EA has sat on its hands. The Carlisle Flood Action Group recommend a Flood Protection Agency. Split out of the EA. With new leadership informed by military and commercial logistics thinking. It runs emergency drills regularly to ensure systems are field tested. The FPA become the back office support for the proposed Cumbria River Catchments Authority CRCA. This new Authority to raise £7.5m from a shadow precept to take governance in hand for Cumbria and Carlisle. At £15 per person per year a small price to offset the misery. With its office situated in Carlisle it will go to work on its catchments, with fewer distractions, free to buy in research and put global firms on the ground through a tender process, untied from historic practice. Its project management dashboards reporting on-line to the community stakeholders who become Members.
I cannot make head or tail of the EA’s mission statements or its structure. They are as clear as flood water. If Truss does not govern she will allow the EA to spend 10-15 years writing computer modelling software and building from scratch flood management capabilities in an organisation with little change management experience or rigorous governance. And the government record on successfully commissioning new software is well known. If they are feeling leaderful they will restructure and arrest the decay. Alan Mulally came in from Boeing to rescue Ford Motor Co. when the US car industry crashed in 2007 taking General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy. These were leviathans too.
Dr Stephen Gibbs MBA (Lancs) PhD (Lancs) PGCert(Mgt) PCPD MCMI FHEA
Chair, Carlisle Flood Action Group