More Environment Agency staff are to receive flood management training, the body’s new chief executive has told MPs.
James Bevan, who took the helm of the Agency in November, told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee this afternoon that he wanted more of its workers able to pitch in during flood events.
The Agency has been working flat out in response to the devastation caused by storms Desmond and Eva over the last few weeks.
Despite calls for the body to be given a clearer focus on flood risk management, and potentially stripped of other responsibilities, Bevan insisted it could cope.
“Is flooding a big enough priority for the Environment Agency? I think the answer is yes,” he said. “Everyone who works for the Agency is clear that the top priority for us is the protection of lives and property.
“We spend more than half of our total budget on managing flood risk and protecting people as far as we can from flood risk.
“I am interested increasingly in using more and more of our staff who are not on a day-to-day basis dedicated to flood risk management to be able to flex those staff to ensure they are properly trained to ensure they can join the effort when we have a flood crisis.
“I am absolutely clear that the organisation needs to be fit to deal with the kind of crisis we’ve seen over the past month.”
Environment Agency chairman sir Philip Dilley told the MPs of his “regret” about the media frenzy over his time in Barbados during the recent UK flooding.
Dilley said: ”In hindsight I could have come back as early as I could, which would have been one or two days earlier. One of my biggest regrets is that the focus on me detracted from what really matters, which is the people.”
An initial statement form the Agency said Dilley was at home with his family.
“My wife is from the Caribbean and when I am there I feel at home,” he said today. “I keep in regular contact and although this was Christmas, in normal times I work from there.”
He refused to rule out a trip abroad next winter.
”I don’t have any plans yet. We will see but we have learnt some lessons.”