15 Jan Containment News January 2016: ‘Risking Environment Agency Cuts’
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‘Risking Environment Agency Cuts’
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have heard a politician say ‘lessons will be learnt’, it’s normally followed by a barrage of finger-pointing and blame shifting rather than any effort to listen and learn. The recent flooding in the UK offers politicians not just a lesson but an absolute masterclass in the impact and dangers of short sighted false economy cost cutting. The chequebook pendulum dramatically swung from ‘no funds available’ to ‘money no object’ as the true scale of the problem unfolded. The full consequences and scale of false economy gambles made due to the pressures of government cost cutting are only just starting to emerge. Risking Environment Agency Cuts is simply one of them.
As well as flood control, the EA’s unique remit encompasses everything from attending major environmental disaster incidents like Buncefield down to the enforcement of fishing licences. Despite this breadth of responsibility the EA announced plans last year to reduce staff numbers by 15% in response to budgetary cuts. Unions fear that up to 1,700 jobs are set to be axed.
An article in The Guardian recently claimed that around 1,200 EA workers have applied for voluntary redundancy (VR), a clear indication of the low morale amongst staff, totally understandable given the critical battering that they received from politicians and all sectors of the media during the recent flooding. My fear is that a high proportion of those applying for VR will be some of the EA’s longest serving staff, and therefore the ones with the most front-line experience. There is a very real danger that the EA are being forced to become a purely reactionary force and that the vital roles of guidance, monitoring and enforcement will be neglected because they are impossible to be quantified financially. As we witnessed, flooding mistakes facilitated by the necessity to make spending ‘gambles’ have a severe impact, however, they largely realign themselves once the weather changes, pollution incidents on the other hand can take generations to correct. The lessons are there to be learnt, hopefully before we lose hundreds of experienced, knowledgable and dedicated environment officers.
The depressing thing is that the above was my Editor’s Comment from April 2014 and Groundhog Day isn’t until the 2nd February!
Since then, far from learning lessons the government has hit Defra with the largest budget cuts of any UK Government Department, “cutting spending by an average of 30% over the next four years” economists at the RSPB say “that this will translate into a cut of 57% in real terms since the Conservatives came into power, once inflation has been taken into account”. The charity also estimates that the proposals will lead to more than 5,000 redundancies.
We have once again witnessed devastating flooding over Christmas and the New Year bringing misery to thousands. There comes a point when a government’s failure to join the dots and blinker itself to the dangers of drastic cost cutting looks suspiciously like a fingers-crossed policy.
The repeated use of the word ‘unprecedented’ by the Prime Minister and government officials in relation to the 2014 and recent floods would lead a sceptic to believe that there is going to be no significant change in policy and therefore no apparent desire to break the cycle.
Expecting more while paying less comes at a time when a freedom of information request by The Angling Trust and Fish Legal has “revealed that the frequency and content of 1,968 sewage outfalls remain unknown to the Environment Agency” as a result the discharges cannot be properly regulated.
The dedicated and hardworking environment and emergency services together with the flood victims who will carry the physiological scars long after their homes have dried out all deserve better.
Editor: Containment News, Flood News, Wireless eNews & LPRA eNews CONTACT
Containment News January 2016