Government must heed warnings on flood defences and environmental crime, warns Prospect union


Government must heed warnings on flood defences and environmental crime, warns Prospect union

Members of Prospect at the Environment Agency issued fresh warnings today (Wednesday) about the negative impact of government spending cuts on environmental crime and flood defences.

The union was speaking in the light of today’s Committee on Climate Change report, which says three-quarters of existing flood defences are inadequately maintained because of shortage of funds.

“Today’s CCC report shows that the budget’s temporary reprieve to Flood and Coastal Risk Management, while welcome, is a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of investment required to maintain the UK’s flood defences,” said Prospect Deputy General Secretary Leslie Manasseh. “The government needs to heed today’s warning that increased flood risk is the greatest threat to the UK from climate change.”

The report also showed that:

  • almost 500 flood and coastal defence projects will not be funded until 2019-20 at the earliest
  • even with the increased maintenance budget, current resources mean almost three-quarters of flood defence assets will not be maintained as needed in 2014-15
  • the Environment Agency had 800 fewer flood risk management staff in March 2014 than in September 2010.

Manasseh said: “It vindicates all of Prospect’s warnings since 2010. Furthermore, robbing Peter to pay Paul will have a serious knock-on effect on the agency’s ability to fight environmental crime.”

On the eve of today’s report, the agency shared proposals with unions and employees on “an affordable structure” from October 2014, with about 10,250 staff, compared with 11,400 people in October 2013. The impact of cuts varies between the 17 geographical areas and head office functions, as the agency seeks to introduce a new two-tier structure. Prospect has been working with the agency to avoid compulsory redundancies.

About 200 posts now also face the axe across other areas, most from the teams who inspect and regulate polluting businesses and the waste industry, and specialist technical staff who support this work, such as biodiversity specialists.

Manasseh said: “You can’t protect the environment if you’ve no one to go out and catch the bad guys. We’re concerned about further losses in the agency’s crime-fighting functions. We need a properly funded Environment Agency, not one that is constantly having to spend its time and energy finding ways to cope with arbitrary cuts.”

The union fears that these new front-line losses will:

  • undermine and restrict the organisation’s ability to undertake proactive compliance inspections in water, waste and process industries
  • hold back the organisation in fighting criminal activity and prosecuting polluters
  • impede its incident response role.

Examples of the impact include cuts of 15%-40% to front-line environment officers in the South West, and one North East area where 50% of posts in environmental crime are being cut. The agency wants to scale back by 25% the cases it would consider taking to court.