• Big job cuts in flood protection at Environment Agency

    3rd January 2014 | News | Claire
  • The ability to cope with floods in England and Wales could be put at risk because of government cuts to the Environment Agency that will result in the loss of hundreds of front-line staff.
    Officials working on flood risk management will be sacked as the agency sheds about 15 per cent of its workforce to save money.

    More than 1,500 jobs will be cut by October, leading to fears that the agency will not be able to cope with serious flooding next year. The agency’s chief executive has said that the downsizing will have an impact on its flood work.

    The extent of the cuts has come to light as officials warned of “an exceptional combination of wind, rain, sea and high tide” that poses a threat to life in many areas of the country.
    People have been told to avoid large parts of the coastline on Friday as huge Atlantic storms make landfall.

    Flooding is expected along the west and south coasts of England and Wales. Flood warnings were also issued in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
    The Environment Agency issued more than 80 flood warnings, including at least 13 “severe” warnings in the South West, indicating a threat to life.

    “As we have more bad weather coming in, we’re looking at an exceptional combination of wind, rain, sea and high tide,” Mr Paterson said.

    Even before the current spell of bad weather, many households were suffering the consequences of heavy rain and high winds.

    Thousands of householders in England have been left to clean up the damage caused by flooding over the festive period. Hundreds of thousands of homes lost their electricity supply because of the bad weather.

    Visiting one flood site last week, David Cameron paid tribute to Environment Agency staff, saying that they had done “an amazing job with the floods and extreme weather”.

    Mr Paterson also lauded the agency’s role, urging people to listen to its advice. He said: “I would appeal to everyone to keep in very close touch with the warnings being put out on a regular basis by the Environment Agency, to pay heed to them, as these floods and the coast will be dangerous.”

    Paul Leinster, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, has warned that government cuts will inevitably “impact” the organisation’s ability to deal with flooding.

    More than 550 staff who work in flooding could lose their jobs as part of the restructuring, according to figures obtained by The ENDS Report, an environmental policy magazine.

    Mr Leinster told the magazine: “Flood risk maintenance will be [further] impacted. All of our work on mapping and modelling and new developments in things like flood warning will also have to be resized. And we’re looking at a proportionate reduction in the number of people in flood risk management.”

    Capital spending to combat flooding by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will increase in the coming years.

    Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, on Thursday chaired a meeting of the Government’s “Cobra” emergencies committee, to coordinate the response to the storms.

    However, there are fears that staffing cuts at the agency could leave the organisation without the manpower to cope with extreme weather events.

    Despite Mr Leinster’s comments, a spokesman for the Environment Agency described the figures for the number of “at risk jobs” in flooding protection as “speculation”.

    He said: “Our budget for 2014-15 will be confirmed shortly. However, we are likely to reduce staff numbers from the previous forecast of around 11,250 at the end of March 2014 to around 9,700 by October 2014. We will then aim to keep numbers broadly at that level, through to March 2015, dependent of course on future funding.”

    A Defra spokesperson said: “We’re currently spending over £2.3 billion on tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion. Together with contributions from other partners, this is more money than ever before.

    “We’re making record levels of capital investment and will be spending over £400m by 2020/21.

    “In addition we have provided the Environment Agency with an above-inflation increase of £5m on their floods maintenance work in 2015/16. Departments and agencies across government are having to make choices about their budgets and the Environment Agency is making their own choices about how best to use their resources.”