Grant Woodward: Sir Philip Dilley and the disappearing concept of public service

Sir Philip Dilley eventually visited flood-hit West Yorkshire after flying back to the UK from his 'home' in Barbados. Photo: Environment Agency.
Sir Philip Dilley eventually visited flood-hit West Yorkshire after flying back to the UK from his 'home' in Barbados. Photo: Environment Agency.
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Remember when people who held down jobs funded from the pockets of hardworking taxpayers actually demonstrated an understanding of the concept of public service? Nope, me neither.

The latest case in point is the chap who took “working from home” to a whole new level by overseeing the response to the worst floods to hit West Yorkshire for 70 years from his mansion in sun-kissed Barbados.

Sir Philip Dilley didn’t think there was anything wrong with this.

But someone at the Environment Agency clearly still resides on Planet Earth because they tried damn hard to fudge it.

He was “at home with his family”, they told us, neglecting to mention the tiny detail that in this case “home” was 4,000 miles and 20 degrees centigrade away from the people his organisation was meant to be helping.

A spokesman only sheepishly confirmed he was sunning himself in Barbados after the press tracked him down.

This week, more shenanigans were afoot as Sir Philip finally quit – with the announcement coming on the day the world found out David Bowie had just died.

Some might think this was because a bright spark in the press office decided it was the perfect day to bury bad news, but I can’t believe they could be so cynical, can you?

Still, at least Sir Philip was suitably repentant for sitting on a beach while Britain was underwater. Wasn’t he?

Er, well, not really. He said he was leaving because “the expectations of the role have expanded to require the chairman to be available at short notice throughout the year”.

In other words, if he was expected to show the level of commitment that could be reasonably expected of such a role, it wasn’t worth his while.

Here’s a newsflash for Sir Philip. Millions of people go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis in jobs that earn them a fraction of the £100,000 you were pocketing for a three-day week.

If he had come back from the Caribbean earlier and shown his face on Kirkstall Road, would it have made a blind bit of difference?

In terms of the agency’s response on the ground, perhaps not. But don’t you think his staff working round the clock might have been buoyed by such a show of solidarity?

And for those whose Christmas trees were bobbing round their front rooms it would have offered much-needed reassurance in their darkest hour to know the supposed top man in the Environment Agency was on the case.

The trouble with the likes of Sir Philip is that they have lost all sense of self-awareness. They’re either blissfully ignorant of how their actions will be perceived by the public or they simply don’t care.

Personally, I’d have felt embarrassed and ashamed to have been on a beach in the West Indies while people back home were snorkelling to work.

But then given the lack of funding for flood defence schemes in Leeds and the rest of Yorkshire, maybe we’ve ceased to matter to those who stalk the corridors of power.

The pictures of Sir Philip visiting the region after being shamed into coming home (sorry, I should clarify, in this case “home” means the UK and not some luxurious pad in the Caribbean) were a treat.

The bloke wore a hangdog expression that screamed “Yesterday I was sipping rum cocktails by the pool – today I’m staring at a flooded street in Todmorden”.

You wanted to tap him on the shoulder and explain that this was why he was getting paid £100,000 a year for a part-time job. And anyway, at least he’d got a nice tan.

As a knight of the realm, we were entitled to expect Sir Philip to have an inkling of what public duty really means. Not least as he’d previously told MPs he would work “seven days a week” if there was severe flooding. Maybe that pledge came with one provision – as long as he could do it from home.

Bowie kept us guessing to the end

MY wife started filling up when we heard on the radio the other morning that David Bowie had died.

“What’s the matter mummy?” our four-year-old son asked.

“A singer who mummy likes isn’t going to make any more music,” I explained, not really wanting to get into a complicated discussion about mortality 10 minutes before I had to leave for work.

“Oh,” he said, and had a quick think. “Don’t cry mummy, you’ll still be able to listen to his old songs, won’t you?”

To be honest, I wasn’t as devastated by Bowie’s death as the rest of the western world appeared to be.

The mourning didn’t quite reach Princess Diana-type levels (in other words, widespread delirium) but there were definite echoes.

Perhaps it was because I always found his music a little too cold and impersonal to clutch to my heart.

Still, in a world where the merest sighting of a Kardashian is deemed newsworthy it was a reminder of a time when we were interested in those with real talent rather than thick-as-two-planks clothes horses.

Once described, like Churchill’s Russia, as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, Bowie kept us guessing to the very end.

Do you pronounce his surname B-oh-ie or B-ow-ie? Some TV reporters managed to get both in the same sentence – somewhere, Ziggy was laughing.

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