Statement from the independent members of the Environment Agency Board.
10th Feb 2014

As independent board members of the Environment Agency we have been following the commentary about the Agency’s performance over the recent weeks of unprecedented rain and storms.

We know that flooding always causes misery, and we sympathise with the anger and frustration felt by flood victims in Somerset, the Thames Valley and many other places. We are also pleased that, since early December, over one million homes and thousands of businesses have been protected from flood damage by the defences we have put in place.

We are very concerned about recent public and political criticism of our staff and our Chairman. Our work is based on firm evidence and tested science.  Of course it is open to anyone to take issue with expert scientific opinion.

But at a time of emergency it is more important for us all to focus relentlessly on managing the current floods and helping to minimise their impact. Just as it is wrong to criticise the work of our staff on the ground, it is equally wrong to seek to place blame for the recent flooding events on the Chairman and “ people in London”.

We are tasked with implementing government policy and are subject to Treasury rules about the use of public money.  These are designed to target resources where they can have greatest effect in terms of policy objectives. So we also welcome the extra money which has now been allocated to flood defence nationally, and in Somerset. We will ensure that every pound of taxpayers’ money we invest offers real value now and in the long term.

The Agency will be dredging rivers in Somerset as soon as it is safe to do so. The wider debate about dredging and what it achieves needs to be had. The time for that is when these floods are over.

We attach a message which we have sent today to all Environment Agency staff supporting them in their vital work – alongside other dedicated professionals from the emergency services, local authorities and the military.

Robert Light, Peter Ainsworth, Karen Burrows, Emma Howard Boyd, Richard Leafe, Richard Macdonald,  John Varley, Jeremy Walker
Independent Board Members, Environment Agency

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MESSAGE TO ALL ENVIRONMENT AGENCY STAFF FROM YOUR INDEPENDENT BOARD MEMBERS – 9 February 2014

“Throughout the many incidents of recent years – flood related and others – the Agency’s Board has been consistently impressed by the professionalism, commitment and resilience of staff, managers and Directors – and never more so than in last two months.

So we have been deeply concerned about the recent campaign of criticism, particularly around the handling of flooding in Somerset. We think this criticism is ill informed and unfair – and we particularly deplore the personal nature of some of it. 

We fear it can only have the effect of undermining public confidence in the Agency, our Chairman – whom we fully support – our managers and our staff, and belittling the work that you do.

This is wrong and very unhelpful at a time when we are all working hard to minimise the impact of extreme weather.  We want to put our views on record to you and publicly. We also want to say a big thank you for your fantastic work.

We also attach to this message the text of a letter we sent to the Sunday Times, which was published yesterday,  although sadly they chose to cut most of it out before it was printed.

Thank you again for all that you do.”

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LETTER FROM INDEPENDENT BOARD MEMBERS TO THE SUNDAY TIMES
8 February 2014

Sir

The Government is to be congratulated on its decision to allocate a further £130 million to repair and restore our country’s flood defences, so badly damaged by extreme weather.  As independent Board Members of the Environment Agency we will ensure that the organisation continues to invest these resources in line with Government policy.

We have great sympathy for all of the victims of flooding and the devastation which has been brought to their lives by this exceptional weather. While 5000 properties have been flooded, the flood defences put in place across the country by the Environment Agency and its partners have protected over 1.3 million others.

The storms continue. For over two months the response of the Environment Agency’s management and staff has been fantastic. They have been working around the clock since early December to warn and protect hundreds of thousands of potential victims who live in flood risk areas. 

They are highly professional and dedicated to serving the public. They have been motivated by a strong commitment to local communities, public recognition and support for their achievements not least by the Prime Minister and the Government.

We are deeply concerned that previously high morale is now being undermined by media and public attacks, directing blame for problems outside the Agency’s control at our Chairman, our managers and our staff. 

Those who are helping to protect lives, homes and businesses need support, not constant and corrosive criticism. And they need it now. There will be time to consider what lessons can be learned, and the implications for future flood defences, when it stops raining.

Yours faithfully,

Independent Board Members, Environment Agency