UK & World News
Floods: Environment Chief Slams Ministers
The under-fire Environment Agency boss has accused ministers of "getting in the way" of the national response to the flooding crisis by turning it into a political row.
Lord Smith said there was "no place for playing politics in the serious business of flood protection" and defended the work of the EA in the face of mounting criticism.
He said staff had "worked their hearts out" and were doing a "valiant job" to protect as many people as possible in the face of extreme weather.
And he hit out at what he said were attempts by politicians to undermine the work and reputation of the EA to secure better media coverage.
Writing in The Guardian, he said it saddened him to see the EA's work "being used as a political football for a good media story".
"In a lifetime in public life, I've never seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces," he said.
"Our staff have worked their hearts out in order to protect as many people as possible in the face of extreme weather.
"They'll carry on doing so. But there's no place for playing politics in the serious business of flood protection."
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles blamed the EA for providing poor advice over the dredging of rivers to prevent flooding.
He conceded the Government had made "a mistake" by relying "too much" on the advice of the EA and declined to dismiss calls for the former Labour cabinet minister to resign.
Flood victims in Somerset have launched a petition calling for Lord Smith to be sacked as chairman of the EA - even though the Labour peer is due to stand down from his £110,000-a-year job in July.
Visiting the flood-stricken Somerset Levels on Friday, Lord Smith faced the fury of residents, some of whose homes have now been under water for more than five weeks.
But he said he was "very proud" of the agency's work - and refused to apologise for any errors and failings.
The peer said he had no intention of resigning despite days of criticism over the response to the floods.
Lord Smith accepted there was "always more that we can do" and that a £130m Government funding boost for repairs would make a significant difference.
The petition has been organised by butcher Malcolm Pyne, from North Petherton, near Bridgwater, who said Lord Smith's refusal to apologise had been the last straw.
"To come down and see what devastation has been caused and then to try to defend and even praise the Environment Agency was tantamount to laughing in the face of the flood victims," he said.
Residents have blamed the failure to maintain the dredging of the rivers Parrett and Tone in Somerset for the crisis.
Lord Smith said dredging would begin as soon as flood waters recede, but added it was "not the whole answer".
Politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have visited the worst affected areas in the South West as efforts continue to restore transport, power and get people back into their homes.
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