Environment Agency Cuts Will Increase Flooding Risks

6 Jan 2014

GMB, the union for staff at the Environment Agency (EA), rebutted Government claims that there will be no impact on frontline staff due to the projected cut of up to 1,700 jobs and said the cuts will increase the risk of flooding and threaten the good management of water resources in England. GMB is pointing out that since November the UK has been battered by storms and these staff are working flat out to protect citizens across the nation.

On 2nd January 2014 a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesman 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’ll also be making record levels of capital investment and will be spending over £400 million by 2020/21. In addition we have provided the Environment Agency with an above-inflation increase of £5 million 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.”

Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer rebutting this, said” Since November the UK has been battered by storms and EA staffs are working flat out to protect citizens across the nation. Government is correct to say about investment in capital monies to build new flood defences, but what is carefully avoided is the massive cuts being made to revenue budgets. Revenue monies is what is used for maintaining existing defences which is just as important as building new ones. If we don’t it’s like having a new car and never getting it serviced, it will soon fail. For one area in the EA the proposed revenue budget is down to 10% of last year’s budget; a 90% cut. This will mean a lack of maintenance not only to flood defence assets that control flood waters, but little maintenance to the rivers themselves which are the main conveyors of flood water.
These cuts to revenue budgets have led to the stark proposals of cutting manpower as the zero option to the cuts. The manpower that visits trash grilles to keep them clear to ensure free flows, the manpower that will lift out trees that block the river, the manpower that fills sandbags, and acts as the liaison to the public that are directly affected by flood waters. The Agency wants more staff to go onto standby and work in Incident Rooms but cutting numbers is a contradiction to this. Currently staff in Incident Rooms are flailing and staff from other areas are being asked to cross subsidise, but with this movement of staff it leaves their own area susceptible to any heavy rainfall and flooding. At present the agency is struggling to cope with the flooding and this is prior to the cuts!”
In November 2013 GMB announced that it was joining with Prospect, UNISON and Unite to mount a campaign to opposing these short-sighted austerity measures. GMB will join with others who have already spoken out against these cuts. The unions plan to lobby MP and local councils and seek to inform political parties and the general public on the increased risks to safety, quality of life, and the most of all the threat to the environment. They will seek to raise awareness that the cuts will mean a detriment to the environment and a lead to higher risk of flooding to persons and property. The unions will show cuts will impact on staff at the forefront of the service, protecting the public by directly maintaining rivers, deploying sandbags, giving flooding warnings, surveying protected species, dealing with pollution incidents and involved with local consenting and planning.
Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer, said “The public need to know that job losses on this scale will impact specifically directly on flood risk management, on flood defence operations teams managing flood defences and carrying out river maintenance to enables flows to be conveyed away, enhancing the river’s ecology and supporting fish stocks. These teams also provide wider incident response containing river pollution, aerating watercourses to prevent fish deaths from low oxygen levels. So cutting flood risk funds will have a detrimental affect the health of all rivers no matter what the interest.
The job losses will detrimentally impact on other function also undertaken by the Agency as follows:

· protecting the public from risks associated with radioactive waste
· regulating polluting industries and preventing environmental crime
· managing the country’s water resources
· ensuring safe bathing water quality
· enhancing our rivers to support angling.

As a nation we are vulnerable to storm damage as the floods of 1947, 1987, 2000, 2001, and 2002 and recent floods and storms clearly shows. They had the effect of major disruption, loss of life, and clean up bills of millions of pounds. So the proposed 10% cut in of Environment Agency jobs will have a detrimental effect on the lives of millions of people in England.”

Contact: Justin Bowden 07710 631 351