Examination of Witnesses (Questions 920
MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2008
Q920 Lynne Jones:
What have you done with the money that you are saving from all
these job vacancies?
Mr Rooke: We have used some of
that money to employ consultants to fill the gaps and to employ
some temporary contractors as well.
Q921 Lynne Jones:
How much is being spent on consultants and who are the consultants?
Mr Rooke: The consultants are
engineering consultants. I do not have the figures, I am afraid,
on how much we have spent on consultants.
Q922 Lynne Jones:
Perhaps you could give us some figures on your expenditure on
scientists and engineers and what proportion is out-sourced.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Could
I just comment? There has been an implicit assumption that we
are top-heavy and that we spend too much on head office. I cannot
quite recall what the total of our head office spend is but it
is primarily on what we would call national-once projects, which
is something that we do once on behalf of the country as a whole
rather than having it replicated around the regions and the areas.
For example, developing our flood warning developing system, which
is clearly based done on a national basis. There would be a number
of projects like that.
Q923 Lynne Jones:
You will have to do a lot more work in terms of surface water
drainage in future, will you not, if you have this responsibility?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
will certainly have to put some investment into establishing what
the frameworks are, what the processes are, that will help local
authorities take this work forward. The standard methodologies,
the modelling techniques and all those things will need to be
funded and they will be done once on the basis of that being the
most effective way of doing it for the country as a whole, developing
the techniques, not actually using them in practice down at local
Q924 Lynne Jones:
Some of our evidence has suggested that, because of the weakness
of your science base, maybe responsibility for the strategic overview
should be given to the Met Office. How do you respond to that?
What is the advantage of the current split in responsibilities?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
would reject any criticism of our science base, quite frankly,
because it is a science base that has been developed over the
years with Defra as a joint programme. It is also in partnership
with a wide number of other very reputable scientifically credible
bodies, and also draws widely from European-wide science programmes
that are right at the cutting edge of flood risk management science
and some of the other techniques, like modelling of risk assessment,
so I am not sure where the criticism of our science base comes
from. I suspect, if it is from other scientists, it may well be
because we have not necessarily done what they wanted or funded
what they wanted but, to my knowledge, until very recently, I
have not heard any criticism of the science base. It is probably
one of the better run science programmes between a government
and an agency and has been for a number of years. In fact, as
a compliment to our science ability, Defra has just devolved more
of the funding for science in flood risk management to the agency
which previously was held centrally by Defra.
Q925 Lynne Jones:
You do have 100 vacancies, which perhaps would be an indication
that those qualified people are not rushing to be employed by
Baroness Young of Old Scone: That
is not in science. That is in terms of our engineering capability.
In terms of science, the vast majority of our science is not done
in-house because that would not be the most effective way of doing
it. The vast majority of our science will be conducted on the
basis of us funding reputable bodies and academic institutions
and other science delivery organisations and to provide the right
sort of science for programmes as a whole, agreed with us and
Defra and other bodies so that we are using our money most effectively.
Q926 Lynne Jones:
Do you have sufficient in-house expertise to commission that research
Baroness Young of Old Scone: If
we do not, I do not know who would, because the reality is we
are the flood risk agency and Defra has policy responsibility
for flood risk, and the secret of successful science commissioning,
in my view, is knowing what the real issues are that you want
explored and knowing the right place to go to get the right sort
of expertise, and making sure that you have good, well-defined
projects that you manage properly and we do have expertise in
that latter set of skills as well.
Q927 Lynne Jones:
So you think you have sufficient expertise for the commissioning
Mr Rooke: Perhaps I could add
that we have set up a number of themes and we have external people
who advise us in terms of those themes, so the science programme
is developed jointly between ourselves and the industry in terms
of what the industry feels it needs. We are also funding a consortium
led by universities, who again take a view in terms of what the
science needs of the country are, and we are supporting them.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Can
I just comment on the engineering vacancies as well? The reality
as far as engineers are concerned is we are all struggling to
recruit enough engineers at the moment right across the public
and the private sector, which is why the Institution of Civil
Engineers and various other of the engineering professional bodies
and ourselves are working together to try and create interest
in the school population and in university in engineering as a
profession in future life, because there is a real problem of
a shortage of children going into engineering degrees and a real
shortage of engineering graduates, which is why we have tried
some of the remedies that we have. It is acknowledged that that
is potentially going to be a problem for everyone, even more so
as we see big investment programmes coming forward, for the Olympics,
Q928 Lynne Jones:
In previous evidence sessions though you have also acknowledged
that you have difficulty in recruiting environmental scientists.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
am not aware of difficulties in recruiting environmental scientists.
Q929 Lynne Jones:
You have certainly sat there and told us that.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Most
of the environmental scientists I know would bite their arm off
to come and work for the agency, to be honest, because we pay
reasonably well for science posts though we are not nearly so
competitive for engineering posts.
Do not apply for the job yet! Can we move on to the question of
the mapping of surface water flooding? That was obviously a feature
of last summer's activity. Can you give us an update on where
we are in developing our knowledge in this area of modelling and
mapping the risks of surface water flooding? Have you, in doing
that, involved local authorities in making an input to it, and
are we likely to see any kind of mapping and indicative risk analysis
during the course of this year?
Mr Rothwell: Yes. We responded
to Sir Michael Pitt's urgent conclusion or urgent recommendations
that we took surface water mapping seriously and tried to find
ways of forecasting where problems might lie. It is extremely
difficult and I would counsel against too much optimism. However,
we feel that we can produce some indicative maps this year, probably
by August, by putting in place a mapping system which we can buy
off the shelf, if you like, and by accompanying that with real
data, which is our own experience of where flooding occurred,
where local authorities understand flooding might have occurred
in the past and also the water companies. We are about to embark
on a series of meetings with local resilience fora where our staff
will present what information we have and ask others who might
have information also to marry it with ours and embellish the
maps. So we are hoping by August to be able to deliver some rudimentary
mapping system. Where it becomes more difficult and more complicated
is that, to make this really accurate, if you ever can in fact
get it to the point where you can forecast flooding ahead and
warn people, is extremely difficult. Urban mapping is fraught
with problems. It is a combination not just of rainfall but of
the existing drainage system that is with the local authority
or water company. Often water companies and local authorities
do not know where the culverted streams are that carry water or
that do not carry sufficient water. It is very difficult to marry
all that data together in any meaningful way to give a forecast
of where urban flooding might occur. At a very local level, that
can also be fraught with difficulty where even speed bumps in
the road or a skip parked over a drain might be sufficient to
cause flooding somewhere, which is very difficult to monitor.
So mapping itself is very tricky and, to add to that, currently
it is very difficult to forecast the intensity of rainfall in
any one area either spatially or temporally to give you the confidence
that you could forecast and warn ahead of where urban flooding,
surface water flooding, might occur but we are confident that
by the middle of the year we should be on the way towards providing
some indicative maps.
That is going to put a question mark with reference to flood risks
in areas which hitherto have not been the subject of your mapping
exercise. How is the insurance community, in your judgement, going
to look at this? Up to nowand we will come on to ask some
questions about this in a secondthey have developed and
embellished a mapping system which has been developed for coastal
and river flooding which, if you like, is a proven piece of technology.
Here we are going to get maps for the first time which in perhaps
a rather "crude" way will identify risks in an urban
situation. What are you doing with the insurance industry to enable
them to understand this and deal with the risk that you now identify?
Mr Rothwell: We talk very closely
with the insurance industry and share data with them to help them
with their business, and indeed, this very week on Thursday I
am meeting with the ABI to talk about urban mapping and what is
the art of the possible and what is not. It is extremely difficult
and I do not think we have all the answers by a long way yet as
to how we might provide information. For critical infrastructure
we think we might be able to provide more information than we
have at the moment but it is subject to ongoing discussions with
ABI as to how we might use that data in the future.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Can
I just comment because I think there are some sort of gross areas
where you could say there is a really frequent risk of deep flooding
which people have to take account of. One of the things that got
me about the January floods was just how many roads and railways
that have flooded traditionally flooded all over again, yet we
do not seem to have quite grasped the messages that we have to
do something to make our roads and railways more resilient. So
there are areas, low spots in the roads, low spots in the railway,
where the likelihood of frequent deep flooding is something that
we have really got to start taking account of. The risk, I think,
of mapping surface water flooding is thatand as a non-technical
person, if I get this wrong, David will have to sort me outat
least when you have mapped the flood plain, you have a pretty
good idea of where a river is going to ultimately go in terms
of spreading out from its course, depending on a whole variety
of different scenarios, and so if you are a number of feet above
the thousand year outline in the flood plain, you can be pretty
certain that you are not going to flood from the river. That is
not the case with surface water flooding. If you get the right
conditions, with a big enough downpour and something blocked,
some drain or some recent development that has prevented water
from flowing in the way that it used to, you can have some quite
strange, unexpected surface water floods occurring, as we saw
during July. That, I think, is going to be the tricky thing, that
we must not in surface water flooding give people the belief that
we know where every surface water flood could be, because we will
never know that because of the unpredictability of it.
That I understand but I just want to pick you up on a piece of
language you used. I wrote it down. "We have really got to
start to be accountable for ... " and you put those words
in the context of road and rail flooding.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: That
was the royal "we".
It may be the royal "we" but, to come back to the line
that Mr Drew was posing to you earlier, which I was following
up, about co-ordination, would not that type of phrase be a bit
like a red rag to a bull to Mr Drew's constituents, saying who
is going to get to grips with these very basic, fundamental issues
of the type of road and rail disruption which they encounter?
I am not clear, again, who is going to be doing the "we";
who is the "we" that is going to get to grips with it?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: There
is a current statutory mechanism for that at the moment, which
is under the Civil Contingencies Bill and the role of the local
resilience fora, who ought to be looking at all of the potential
causes of lack of resilience in a local area and the highways
agency and the providers of essential services are part of these
I think if you asked people, they would think that those issues
were not being addressed, and this comes back to who is going
to sit and make certain that those jobs are actually done? Just
tell me now, under the Civil Contingencies Act, who checks up
if all of these things that you think ought to be being done are
actually being done?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: This
is one of the reasons why we believe that the Climate Change Bill
should be strengthened to provide a duty on a whole variety of
local authorities and providers of critical infrastructure to
take account of the impacts of climate change, whatever they might
be. In some cases they will be floods, it could be heat, it could
be a whole variety of things, because at the moment they do not
have that responsibility.
No, but even if it were there in law, you are still going to have
to have somebody to say "Have you done it?"
Baroness Young of Old Scone: The
local resilience fora are the place where the local resilience
plans should be drawn up, led by the local authority.
You are saying "should be". I was very interested in
what you said when you identified, almost in a moment of personal
frustration, about road and rail. You said "I am so surprised."
You are Mrs Floods, and you are so surprised that we have not
actually done anything.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Let
us correct that. We are at the moment the agency that has a responsibility
for flooding from the coast and from rivers, and at the moment
we do not have a responsibility for the overview of all flooding.
Yes, but you are in this. This is what you do for a living. You
look after flooding, and you have made it very clear that you
are the repository of a great deal of the knowledge about flooding
in the country. All I am saying is that I think the public will
be very interested to hear you, Baroness Young, express the kind
of frustration that they feel that some of these localised but
nonetheless very important issues do not seem to be being addressed,
in spite of the fact that there are statutory bodies and obligations
which have been there for some time, which should be leading to
action on the ground, which they do not see.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Which
is why I would strongly advocate the need for a statutory role
for these bodies, a statutory responsibility, a duty for all of
these bodies under the Climate Change Bill to take account of
the impacts of climate change and ensure that their services have
made adequate provision to adapt to them, because unless there
is a statutory duty, we may well find that different bodies are
at different stages of preparedness and at different stages of
being willing to collaborate with their local resilience fora.
Q938 Mr Williams:
Mr Rothwell pointed out the difficulty when you are doing mapping
for surface flooding of identifying actually where these culverts
and where these drains are. Another problem, as I see it, from
local experience is not only once you have found out where the
drains and the culverts are, but whose responsibility it is for
maintaining them. Individuals find it very iniquitous that when
a drain that is taking water off a road then goes through their
land that they then become responsible for maintaining that culvert.
Are you taking the opportunity when you do this work to try to
get some understanding of who is responsible for individual drains
and culverts as well as where they are? Part of the problem is
that you would have localised failure, like your skip parked on
the drain or whatever, but ownership and responsibility for these
structures is important as well, is it not?
Mr Rothwell: Yes, absolutely and,
as I mentioned, I think, we have been doing some initial work
this year. Once you get into identifying where every culvert is
and what condition it is in and who owns it, you get into much
greater expenditure and much longer time horizons to do it. It
would require some of the data that was held by a number of other
players who have to also work with us. So I think to get the picture
that you have outlined and that we would all wish to have would
take a considerable amount of time and cost.
Q939 Mr Williams:
Surely, that is the key to actually finding out what the remedial
action that needs to be taken is and who is responsible for taking
that remedial action. When we visited Lincoln, there were issues
about riparian ownership and riparian responsibility but the same
problems with sub-surface structures as well.
Mr Rothwell: I think that is right.
We have mentioned surface water management plans and local authorities
having responsibility for writing these in places where there
are critical drainage failures or drainage problems which again
are identified as critical drainage areas in the planning legislation
and from our own catchment management plans. PPS25, the guidance
which is now being written on planning development in the flood
plain, does touch upon some of these issues about how we know
where water is going to go and who manages it, and I think part
of the outcome of those surface water management plan consultations
will be to bring these other players in to understand the drainage
system in much greater detail than we can do at the moment.