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Asset manager

Jon Hollis - asset investment and planning senior advisor

“Floods destroy. It’s true. They don’t have to kill you to take your life – your home, photos, prize possessions all ruined. If you have experienced a flood you know it’s a traumatic time especially, as in this case, when it happened just before Christmas.

“The flood response from government usually focuses on the ground. The media like to see politicians in wellies, the military helping communities, sandbags and road-closed signs.

“But the action isn’t all on the ground. My role in the last round of flooding was supporting government and providing information. There is a thirst for data from the Prime Minister, the government, the media and the worried public.

“It was my role to respond to questions from ‘how much have we spent in an area over the last number of years’, to ‘how much do we plan to spend in an area,’ and ‘what happened to previously proposed projects or why wasn’t this funded’?

“I had to go through the information we hold and turn it into answers. It meant I had to be aware of the projects the agency is running across the country, the number of properties they protect, and what the individual cost of those schemes is, or is expected to be.

“At one point I was briefing the secretary of state’s special adviser and on many occasions I worked on questions for number 10.

“So I didn’t have a pair of wellies on. I didn’t go to various flood sites. But I did work many hours from early morning until late at night, over weekends and Bank Holidays, to provide the government and the media with the information needed to make decisions and inform the public of the facts.”

It is, he says, about explaining the provenance and reliability of the data. “For example if the media publish a story with a slant, I have to ask if their facts and figures are correct? Where did they get them? Have things been updated since?

“Five years ago we might have said we were going to deliver a project. But, after paying due diligence to the business case, appraisals etc we may have decided that it wasn’t going to be quite the investment we envisaged.

“We have to explain that it is impossible to protect every home and business and do all the maintenance we want, so we have to take a risk-based approach. Similarly, where we have information about a flood in one of our areas we might hold similar data in a different format for projects just over the border.

“We are a big organisation so turning information around to respond to questions quickly and inform government so it can explain what money has been spent where, is tough.”

Praising the dedication of his colleagues Jon says: “I’ve worked for EA for 10 years and haven’t met anyone working for the agency for the wrong reasons. Staff want to do the right thing for the environment and people.

“So when incidents happen, people are more than willing to help. Staff gave up time with families, holidays etc. I missed a family Xmas party as a result, but many people were in a worse position than me.

“One chap I worked with said that he had just discovered he could claim overtime. But he said he would’ve much rather had the time back with his new-born son. That gives you an idea of the level of dedication. Our people are passionate about what we do.”