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Environment Agency steels itself for jobs axe

Environment Agency flood risk management boss David Rooke last week made a plea for staff support in the face of 1,550
job cuts.

Employee numbers are to be cut from 11,250 to 9,700 by October 2014.

There is the possibility of further redundancies in the future as a result of a major cut in ­government revenue funding.

The cut was reconfirmed in chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last Thursday, the same day that Environment Agency engineers were out in force defending the east coast from the biggest tidal surge in 60 years.

Osborne’s statement confirmed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) must save £19M in 2014/15 and £18M in 2015/16, with a chunk of these cuts being passed down to the Environment Agency.

Defra’s revenue funding for operations and maintenance is falling to £230M next year, down around £10M on this year and around £50M since 2010/11.

Speaking at NCE’s Flood Management conference a day earlier, Rooke, who is the Agency’s director of flood and coastal risk management, said the organisation was facing major structural change and that he needed staff to support it.

“It’s a significant decrease,” said Rooke. “With the pressures on the revenue budget we are looking to change our organisational structures. We are consulting with staff at the moment but we are looking to reduce the size of the organisation, reducing it to a national and area structure, removing the regions.

“It is a major organisational change and we are looking for our staff to support us.”

Unions including Prospect and Unison are furious about the cuts and have already warned that the decision could be damaging.

“Making these cuts is not only dangerous but potentially ­catastrophic,” said Unison national officer for the Environment Agency Matthew Lay. The union represents 3,500 Agency staff.

“There’s a real danger that cutting staff will reduce the Agency to a crisis management level, with less maintenance and the ability to deal with emergencies.

“Making so many skilled workers redundant will seriously affect the Agency’s ability to manage incidents.

“On top of this, there is a real risk of a significant loss of knowledge and emerging talent,” he said.

Rooke admitted that the Agency had been severely tested in 2012, when 8,000 properties were flooded during a year in which the Agency spent 20% of its time in active flood mode.

“Overall we had 5,000 Agency staff involved working 24/7, and in terms of resilience and resources it tested us,” he said.

News of the cuts was broken to staff in an online question and answer session with senior management on 22 October.

It is unknown how many of the 1,550 jobs will be lost in flood defence. “That level of detail has not yet been worked out,” said an Agency spokesman.


Revenue spend down, capital spend up

“Flood and coastal management did get a good settlement in the Spending Round. In terms of capital spending there is a big increase,” Environment Agency director of flood and coastal risk management David Rooke told NCE’s Flood Management conference last week.

“But revenue funding is a different picture,” he said.

Capital spending will leap from £300M this year to £450M in 2014/15 before rising steadily to £500M by 2020/21. But even that is not without conditions.

The Agency will only get the cash if it can demonstrate that it will protect an extra 300,000 properties by the end of 2020/21, with 165,000 to be protected by the end of the next spending period.

It must also ensure that 15% of the cash is raised from external sources in the form of partnership funding.

The Agency must also find a further 10% in efficiency savings, on top of a 15% saving demanded in the current spending period.

“It is a big challenge,” said Rooke. “But we have a new framework and we have a new supply chain and we are looking at innovative ways of procuring schemes.”

He cited the Thames Estuary Phase 1 work which is currently being procured.

For this, the Agency wants to form a contract with a single delivery partner working with the Agency in a co-located team.

Rooke added that the Agency was also drawing up a charter that will oblige suppliers on the framework to buy into its commitments to government. “We are looking for absolute clarity of what the directors of these companies have signed up to,” he said.

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