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Monday, July 30, 2007

Flooding bonuses

I am not particularly enamoured with large bonuses in either the private or the public sector. There is always a question mark over who determines them, how they are assessed and whether they can be justified or not. I am not therefore singling out the Environment Agency for any other reason apart from the fact that they are the latest body to have gone down this route.

Those officials I have met and worked with in the Environment Agency are dedicated, hard-working professionals who do a very difficult job very well under the spotlight of intensely critical public scrutiny. These individuals deserve large bonuses at the same level as their bosses. I am not entirely sure that they are getting them.

The Guardian notes that the agency's chief executive, Baroness Young, has received a 15% bonus of £24,000 on top of her £163,000 salary. Eight other executives, including the director of water management, received awards averaging 10% of their salaries. Chris Huhne has identified the important lack of accountability in this award, it was announced after Parliament had gone into recess, and maybe this is the point. If public bodies are to award bonuses of this sort then they must be forced to come to Parliament to justify them.

As for the suggestion in many reports that flooding and the failure to keep more than half the flood defences in high risk areas up to scratch make these bonuses indefensible, well perhaps there is something in that too. There is though a political line of accountability that needs to be followed, including questions as to the priority given to public spending by politicians, how government has made things worse by allowing building on flood plains, and what regard Ministers have had to these issues.

We should not allow the very separate issue of bonuses for officials, to distract us from a proper investigation of the planning and strategic management of flood prevention. That matter is urgent and I would hope that all elected bodies will be putting it at the top of their agenda.
Surely Peter it's just water under the bridge...
The best example of giving out bonuses I have come across is when the then Plaid run Council in RCT gave performance related bonuses to senior Officers despite the fact that no performance targets had been set for them to meet.

They claimed that had targets been set then they would undoubtedly have met them, so gave them out anyway. (Even to the HR Director who failed to come up with the targets.)
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