Saturday, February 08, 2014

Another Quango Head Proves His Worth

Chris Smith wasn't a very impressive minister back in the early days of Blairite government where he served in the middle ranks.  But he didn't commit any huge sins either, and is likeable enough, so the reward was to head a quango.  He has no environmental qualifications that I'm aware of, so naturally he became the chairman of the Environment Agency.  As it happens, since he can presumably draw on expert advice, what appears to have been needed at the top of the Environment Agency was a first class politician who could identify problems, sort through competing solutions and impose them.  A first class politician would also be able to communicate his agency's work effectively, and when things go pear-shaped - as they tend to when dealing with an environment that stubbornly refuses to engage in predictable or controllable behaviour - he should be able to go into damage limitation mode speedily and effectively.  Chris Smith has no environmental qualifications, but he doesn't seem to be much of a politician either, if his disastrous tour of the Somerset Levels yesterday is anything to go by.  His progress had a shifty, furtive air about it and he tried to avoid real people as much as possible - unsurprisingly as they had a few choice comments for him.

Chris Smith's performance brings the quality of quango heads to the fore again.  Smith is one of a long line of ex-Labour politicos (or diary secretaries, in Sally Morgan's case) rewarded with jobs seemingly beyond their ken.   Well rewarded jobs too, the sort that Baroness Morgan clearly thinks should be for life.  Many of them are well below the public wire, but organisations like the Environment Agency and Ofsted clearly do actually have an impact, and it is well beyond time that a proper, open application process was adopted for the appointment of their heads.  If Morgan's self-interested outcry and Smith's terrible performance bring about a change in the calibre of quango heads, then their otherwise very mediocre careers will not have been in vain.

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