The sole aim of this blog is to highlight the areas within which improvements can be made in the Environment Agency, where abuse of the system can be identified and reduced, and to expose where mismanagement has occurred so that it can be corrected. Follow us @EAWhistleblower - Supported by 41 serving and ex-EA staff members.
I'm sure most people are used to working a contracted number of hours per week and receiving x amount of days off per year. There isn't usually much scope of working less hours without being paid less, or receiving more time off work without a special reason.
That's true, that is, if you didn't work for the Environment Agency. Here we are entrusted to log our own hours without oversight, holidays taken off are supposed to be recorded on a piece of card with a signature from management for approval, but this rarely happens. What does all this mean? Environment Agency employees (particularly Environment Officers) regularly come in later then they log down, leave much earlier than they report and take many more days off as annual leave than their entitlement.
I've seen fellow colleagues who have taken off as much as 8-12 weeks off work, fully paid, not as sick, but all as annual leave, despite only being contracted to 27 days plus flexidays. I've seen colleagues work less than 30 hours per week, who log down on their time sheets 37-40 hours. But what about line management I hear you ask? They never pay attention, and those that do turn a blind eye to it.
On a daily basis, I see fellow Environment Agency employees putting they work an extra 1-3 hours per day so that their time sheets match their contracted hours, so many of us who are 'supposed' to be doing our 37 hours per week are in fact doing as little as 30 hours per week. Not only that, but we can just take a day off, get the wink from our management and claim it as annual leave or a flexi-day, but in fact, it's never logged. You just complete your time sheet as if you worked that day.
Better yet, you want to take off 9 days next month for that holday to Ibiza, but you only have 8 'official' days leave, no probs, log down an extra hour worked per day (but don't work it) and hey presto, an extra flexi day off giving you 9. Don't worry about line management, if they 'somehow' find out, most will overlook it.
This practice is well known internally and accepted as the norm, but just don't talk about it, because no-one likes a tell all. I've seen it raised and the person raising it be shot down and destroyed. No one wants the party spoiled, so you just join in.
Ask yourself this, as a tax payer or licence payer whose money pays our salaries, how do you feel that we not only get better security and more money than you, but also literally get to choose how many hours we work and how many days holiday we can have, and all with minimal oversight? Don't forget, most of us are regulatory officers with many powers who tell you what to do, yet we flout our own rules - it's the 'do as I say, not as I do' syndrome.
It is common practice for Environment Officers to collaborate their statements when compiling a case against an offender. Common practice is for one Environment Officer to take all the notes, and then allow other Officers present to copy these notes once back at the office. Another common practice is for Environment Officers to write down notes in a normal notepad so that later a more convincing statement can be written back at the office that will help lead to a successful case. These practices should not be carried out by any law enforcement agency, but are standard practices in the Environment Agency.
Other practices are the exaggeration of 'environmental crimes' to justify prosecution cases that are otherwise not in the interests of the public. This is done by reclassifying pollutants and/or wastes as different substances other than present, such as making out hazardous properties that were not present, or by claiming a full environmental permit was required whereby only an exemption would have been needed. Other exaggerations include overstating financial benefits obtained, stating environmental impacts that were not the case and by not including extenuating circumstances at the time of the 'offence'. Unfortunately, many of the 'environmental offenders' we deal with are small business/sole operators who have little knowledge or funds to fight back, and are all too willing to accept full blame in order to avoid greater penalties.
It is also common for Environment Officers to fail to follow through on all leads, instead choosing to allow their prejudgements to decide on how they conduct investigations, typically resulting in the cases being built up against the wrong business/person, which later has to be dropped when old evidence surfaces. These go unreported as they do not reach court, but accounts for a large waste of Environment Agency resources (time, funds, etc) and an additional cost to the businesses they regulate.
These are hard for people to prove against, because they take place back at the office when the case is being put together so that any inconsistencies can be 'ironed' out and for counter evidence to be removed (there are no processes or oversight on how evidence is stored and treated during the early stages of an investigation, we have our own cameras, use scraps of paper and own storage where we can decide on what we decide to present in a case).
There have been numerous cases whereby Environment Officers have entered land without permission from the landowner and without leaving a Notice of Powers and Rights when collecting evidence, but have then later, back in the office, completed this important document and destroyed the recipients half. Other times, Environment Officers leave the Notice where it can easily be lost, damaged and removed prior to the landowner seeing it. This leaves the landowner unaware of what has taken place or of their rights.
These pose significant problems for these people and businesses, as their legal teams then do not have the full picture and have to rely on what the prosecution provides (from the Environment Agency), which is obviously incomplete. In most cases, 'offenders' are happy to quickly remediate problems, but Environment Officers are unlikely to report this in their cases. As the people and businesses were unaware or did not anticipate these exaggerations, they never had the foresight to gather their own evidence to prove against the accusations.
This is a problem that seldom is highlighted, as it provides a good source of income and PR for the Environment Agency.
So today, I was reading about the manpower waste being reported in a local newspaper, and it prompted me to repost the below blog post. But before that, I just have to post snippets from the report - residents shouldn't be surprised by the manpower waste at the Environment Agency, I and many others have been reporting it for years:
"RESIDENTS were left scratching their heads and wondering how many Environment Agency workers it takes to put up a sign after a team of four was spotted near the sea wall in Dymchurch... Resident Hilary Rich said: "We have just returned from a walk down to Dymchurch and, once again, are amazed at the waste of manpower by the Environment Agency."
Read more: http://www.folkestoneherald.co.uk/workers-does-erect-sign/story-22044734-detail/story.html#ixzz39nejuY1E
Originally posted last year: 3 Cars, 8 Environment Officers, 1 Meter
So, apologies for the delay in recent posts. With recent workload (with a competent organisation) and with the tribunal, I am quiet restricted in how much I can post and what I can disclose at this stage. My hopes are that once things settle down, I can begin posting more insights and uploading scanned copy of notes made during my time with the Environment Agency.
Today, however, I happened to bump in to almost a dozen of ex-colleagues, and it seems it's "business as usual" a the Environment Agency. After a little conversing and cajouling (they had instructions not to speak with me), it seems the 8 Officers (along with their 3 vehicles) were out in my neck of the woods to take a reading from a flow meter. Seems the 5 so called experienced Environment Officers (I've worked with them and would say that is a stretch, no matter how many years they claim), were showing the 3 new Environment Officers how to read a meter.
I know that if this had been an incident, the Environment Agency would be able to charge back for each one of those Officer's time under the Water Resources Act which at around £194 per hour for each "experienced" Officer could cost a tidy sum. Wise use of resources?
Environment Officer Parody Twitter Account, But Without the Exaggeration - Follow @EOEnvAgency
Environment Officer @EOEnvAgency · Aug 5
Cool. Started my shift today at 10am and finished by 4pm. Don't worry, put down 9am till 5pm instead. Team leader none the wiser #EnvAgency
Environment Officer @EOEnvAgency · Aug 5
Late nite with boys. Email team leader doing early site inspection, so won't be in office. Have a sleep in instead. Love this job #Envagency
Environment Officer @EOEnvAgency · 15h
Spent the day browsing the net at work. Order a few bits and bats from eBay. Nowt like getting paid to do your own thing. #EnvAgency #Defra
Environment Officer @EOEnvAgency · 15h
Spending time reading all about #HowardWebb at work at the Environment Agency. Who else is getting paid to slack off?
Environment Officer @EOEnvAgency · 5m
Site inspection and operator has questions about his permit. No clue the answers so bluffed through them. #Notmyjob #EnvAgency
The EA is the exemplar of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule), whereby 80% of the workforce is content to laze in front of their machines whilst listening to music, spend work time shopping and visiting friends, attend limitless meetings on beauroucratic drivel covering important topics from uncleaniness of work desks to catching up on gossip and deciding where to drink after work. The remaining 20% are hardworking, ambitious and trustworthy individuals that out of necessity hide this flare to avoid the wrath of their less competent colleagues for showing them up. Unfortunately, this endemic disease infects all levels of management and staff leading to an ineffective, confusing and inconsistent regulator that impacts the lives of many hardworking people outside the organisation as discussed in previous posts.
A cure to this horrific disease is to pry open the EA for guts and glory to be seen in order that this tumor can be removed, because that's what it is, an abnormal growth that has been allowed to foster and grow over the past two decades. Only once this has been done can a more effective, consistent and able regulatory body come to the front allowing the 20% of the passionate and inspirational individuals to lead without fear of reprisals.
Perhaps this is a far off dream, but I will continue to educate and promote this with fellow patrons until the right outcome is achieved.
As a national organisation, the Environment Agency is entrusted to ensure that it carries out it's duties in a fair and consistent manor. It is something espoused by the Agency in everything it publishes - unfortunately, it is far different from what is encouraged and practiced on the ground as an officer. It was part of our training, shadowing and regular practice to allow, either by overlooking or giving poor advice, operators and licencee's to contravene rules and regulations in as far as even giving the "verbal" greenlight to operate in a way that would be considered a breach of permit/licence. This was encouraged with the future anticipation of building up a strong casefile to take against the operator/licencee so that we could justify greater legal action - this is in conflict with our duties to give open and fair guidance. This was explained as a way of improving our PR by having more casefiles on the go to largely justify our existence.
These are passed down from management in certain areas, and luckily, it isn't widespread, but it is recommended by a significant number of the management teams and certainly carried out by a large number of officers on the ground. It is, essence, a form of trickery and deception to boost casefiles.
What's worse is how this "selection process" works when choosing which operator/licencee to pursue (pick on/give false advice to). Personal biases and opinions about operators and licence holders were regularly discussed in team meetings in order help decide who to target - especially if we had few problem operators and needed to boost stats. Some of these chosen operators and licence holders were "old" and some officers had the opinion that their time was up and that they shouldn't continue to have the licence - they would become a target - we'd even develop methods of finding ways to score them to boost their annual subsistence fees. Being in an ethnic minority is a large no-no for a large number of officers, and these would be targeted - there were regular team discussions about racial profiling and targeting due to certain "perceptions" that they tend to operate illegal sites. Other techniques would be for one officer to regulate a site with a "light touch", encourage operators to breach their permit, and then intentionally swap the site with another officer who would "come down like a ton of bricks".
In many, many instances, if an officer didn't like an operator or licence holder, then we'd focus more energy on them to "catch them out", make it difficult granting new permits and we'd find ways of modifying the permits/licences to intentionally cause hassle - this was largely a game to many of us and had no environmental benefits.
The message I would like to get out is how the power given to the Agency is regularly abused, how personal opinions and biases impact real people and businesses with no benefit to the environmental or human health, and that what the Agency communicates to the outside world is usually a far cry from what is encouraged internally.
The first two are very common, the later is rare, but does occur, despite what the Environment Agency says.
There have been occasions during my time (and others have collaborated this) inside the Environment Agency where I have witnessed many conflicts of interest between Environment and Permitting Officers and Operators. For example, there are a number of Officers and permitting staff who have accepted money to complete permit applications on behalf of external organisations in direct conflict with their duties. I know of six occasions in 2012 alone that this has happened. This is frowned upon by management, but is not actively discouraged or investigated. This could be the cause of the mix up with Avoncliff et al's licensing escapade.
Wrongdoing doesn't end there - there is the problem with the perverse nature of the promotion model used internally for Environment Officers. Every Officer needs to present a case that they prosecuted or evidence that they turned around a poor performing operator in order to gain promotion to the next stage - finding such examples to present for promotion are rare, so "constructive" prosecutions regularly take place with backing from fellow Officers with the idea that if they help one out, it will be reciprocated when the other looks for their next promotion opportunity. I have eluded to this before in this blog, whereby Officers will give conflicting information to an unsuspecting permit holder in the hopes that the operator breaches their permit. Other Officers give poor advice simply because of poor training. Either case, the operator receives the flack and pays the fine when such mistakes are found, whilst the Officer producing the case gains recognition for doing good to protect the environment. When reading some of the recent prosecutions by the Agency, keep in mind that a proportion have come about due to unfortunate circumstances and could have been prevented with proper advice i.e. certain Officers doing their job properly.
When you picture the problems at Boomeco and Waste4Fuel, it's not above suspicion to imagine that this is one potential reason for the problems getting so far out of hand. Of course, there is the alternative explanation of lack of oversight of Officers forging visits, bunking off work and all means of avoiding doing actual inspections.
Favouritism is a huge problem in the Environment Agency, as many of the Officers work in the areas they are responsible for. It is common for Officers to socialise outside of work with the licencees (various permit holders) and people running the organisations that they regulate. As mentioned previously in this blog, if you're not on some of these Officers favourite list, but happen to be in their "I don't like you" list, you're in big trouble - this is likely the current state of affairs for Avoncliff. Of course, if you happen to be good buddies with your Officer outside of work, then it is common that you will get more leeway in what you can do and get away with - as I have witnessed first-hand whilst working there. Despite making several reports to management, no action was ever taken to resolve these issues.
The much less common, but still under investigated, is bribery. Management do state a big no-no to this, but in 2012, I am aware of two Officers accepting money from a permit holder (by their own admission) for information on a key competitor in the area. Those Officers are still working there in the same capacity. Stories of other Environment Officers accepting money for confidential information is not uncommon.
I know that line management do not like to raise alarm or investigate these issues, because it a) is embarrassing and effects their promotion prospects, b) is controversial and c) don't want to rock the boat i.e. "why let a few bad apples spoil the barrel".
Environment Officers are now more than ever being pressured to "find" any incidents at sites to justify increasing subsistence fees (which could lead to an increase of 300% of a standard annual permit's cost). There is a particular problem of Environment Officers playing good cop, bad cop by giving bad advice to entice operators into thinking they are ok doing one thing, but is then picked up by another officer as non-compliant later on. Making false statements is also another tactic player by Environment Officers, as very few operators will check the paperwork (many compliance assessment report (CAR) forms go missing or are sent late - some down to known EO tactics, some genuine mistakes), even fewer operators will challenge false statements knowing that it will summon the wrath of disgruntled EOs.
Operators need to be particularly aware of Environment Officers who never attend site visits, but who still complete Compliance Assessment Report forms from their desk (very common, see post about abuse of flexi time and annual leave). This is a significant problem which can come up to bite complacent operators later on if their permit is passed over to a more eager EO in future, especially if they are fairly new and coming up for their next level promotion and need to prove they have turned around a problem site.
The critical issue with CAR forms is their subjective nature, which combined with the unbridled power and lack of oversight of Environment Officers have caused a number of problems highlighted here in this blog and elsewhere.
You can read some of the humorous comments from Environment Officers at Skip Hire Magazine. P.S. We've seen far worse and far funnier inspection comments, but makes you question the intelligence/effort of some Environment Officers.
On the other hand, for residents battling sites like Waste4Fuel, here's your explanation for how these incidents spiral out of control, when really, if the EOs responsible did their job, these would rarely be as serious.
Who should the media give credit to when reporting the flood fiasco responses last winter? The actual teams on the ground, right on the front line - the Environment Agency Ops guys and girls. These are the lowest on the totem pole within the Environment Agency, poorest paid, they receive only around half as much as an Environment Officer, and they receive the littlest of appreciation. Worst still, they are seldom listened to, despite their local expert knowledge. These are the teams you see on the TV. They are the teams who are actually out working 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week to clear up this mess during an emergency, whilst the remaining bulk of the EA staff sit in warm offices and get the clap on the back on-behalf of these teams for a job well done.
Next time you see the Environment Agency teams manning the pumps, delivering sandbags or helping evacuate people, keep in mind they are likely a lowly paid, poorly respected Ops team carrying out the back breaking "grunt" work - they weren't responsible for the mismanagement and abuse perpetrated by the high paid middle back office/questionable front line staff sitting in comfort luxurious offices - the so called experts: groundwater officers, PR officers, environment officers, flood officers, EM team leaders, etc. who are typically on almost double, even triple the salaries of these poor "grunt" teams (as they are referred to internally).
The questions the Public Accounts Committee should be asking are: have we got the design of the Environment Agency right? Are the right people being employed in the right places? Is the money being spent efficiently? - Paul Harrison thinks so: "It looks to the outside that there are too many conflicting functions at the Environment Agency and a lot of infighting over the funds available. Why don't we adopt the German approach of a Federal Agency that implements policies, but then say, the local authorities carried out the work? Seems to work for them. Why do we need a gigantic Environment Agency with a large staff bill that's fighting over how to spend its budget? Just a thought."
Below are some recent key stats for the Environment Agency, which will help illustrate the dire need for efficiency savings. Efficiency savings of just 10% could yield £120 million for extra flood defences. According to some more senior EA staff, the EA could manage 20-25% efficiency savings, yielding £240-300 million for extra flood defences - one particular area they claim is ripe for action is staffing/overmanning.
A few recent key stats for the Environment Agency:
- £395 million on wages (£592 million incl pensions) vs £219 million on capital projects + £20 million on maintaining rivers
- £5 million spent on redundancies but permanent workforce increased from 10,701 to 11,177 in the past year
- The real employment levels at Environment Agency actually stood at 12,252 people (temps and contractor personnel)
- £13 million on staff expenses, plus another £17m spent on staff travel
- £31.5 million and £36.7 million spent on EA Government Procurement (Credit) Cards in 2011/12 and 2012/13 respectively
- Directors at the agency declined bonuses but 38 managers shared a pool of £334,000
- Past two years, 14 employees left with six-figure cheques, some in excess of £150,000
- Spending on maintaining culverts and channels to help the flow of watercourses dipped by £1.3 million last year
- £3.6 million was trimmed off the budget to build or improve embankments that protect communities from floods
- Environment Agency spent hundreds on 'equali-tea' gay awareness mugs... and £30,000 on gay pride marches
- Spent over £250k from 2011 to mid-2012 on meetings at private venues, despite having over two dozen offices around the country
- Spent almost £1 million hiring dredging equipment after it sold its own machines for just £200,000
- Nearly 7,000 vehicles (plus trucks) - more than one official vehicle for every two employees
- Environment Agency bosses spent £2.4 million on PR alone (excluding staff wages)
- A £2 million Environment Agency case ended with a fine of just £1,000
- Environment Agency to pay back as much as £1.5 million in another court case that they dropped
- 20-25% of business travel costs lost to fraudulent cases costing an estimated £1.8-£4.5 million
- Significant number of man-hours lost in abuse of flexi time, home working and annual leave
Other areas to look into are costs of moving offices, department restructures, lost cases and external training programmes in recent years. This excludes the personal experiences of EA staff who have posted their stories of waste and abuse.
This leads to an important question. Has there ever been an independent audit of the Environment Agency's finances? If not, why not?
Over the past few years, the Environment Agency have been introducing an intelligence system that is based on the gathering and analysis of intelligence in order to help determine how their resources are targeted. Unlike the police service, where such information is highly classified with access restricted to senior personnel to ensure accountability, the intelligence system in the Environment Agency is open to all Environment Officers, regardless of need, including new recruits.
The troubling aspect of this system is the large amount of unsubstantiated rumour that is required from officers and the public. The information DOES NOT have to be true, as the purpose of the system is to form links between people, vehicles, addresses, etc through number plates, relationships, living arrangements, telephone numbers, etc. The idea behind the system is good, in theory, but in practice, as with other activities within the Environment Agency, it has, and continues to be abused.
I have witnessed individual Environment Officers making up rumours of operators, members of the public and other individuals to which they have a grudge and inputting this onto the system repeatedly to encourage the initiation of an investigation. We have undercover surveillance teams with vans who operate in public - visiting premises as customers, etc based on this information.
The troubling part is that I have witnessed surveillance teams gather sensitive information on these targets, and share them with these same officers (despite no case or evidence being present) for banter. Other officers have inputted rumours of people they dislike on the system for humour alone. The undercover surveillance officers have on a number of occasions, after performing searches and collecting evidence, brought back private materials, such as intimate pictures that have no relation to cases, and shared these with other Environment Agency staff in the office for humour. This is highly distasteful and although I reported these incidents internally on a number of occasions, they were passed off as "isolated" cases and swept under the carpet, but this behaviour still continues.
This system is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act or Data Protection Act (Subject Access Requests), but does contain substantial and sometimes highly sensitive information on members of the public, much of which is rumour.
With the emergency phone and internet data retention law due to be passed, we must question how much more power agencies like the EA will get receive, especially considering these abuses of the existing system.
With the sunny weather finally upon us, you won't be surprised to see Environment Officers out and about doing their "work" - sampling, site visits, etc. But this reminds me of all the days my colleagues spent on duty in the field, tops off and sunbathing, the days when they got changed into civi clothes and went shopping in the nearest shopping centre when they were supposed to be "working" and even the days they sat in one of our houses and watched a movies.
You might think these were isolated and one offs, but this was regular and accepted by a large majority of them. It was typical office banter to discuss and laugh about where they'd be sunbathing or shopping.
So if you're sat in your cubical, busy in a crowded ward or battling for life and limb in a foreign country, just remember us brave environmental boys and girls who spend a large amount of this summer, and definitely our past summers, sitting in the sun or shopping, and then getting a big juicy praising from management for being "out and about" doing our "work" and making a difference. And remember, we get paid more than you for this - £25,000 to £31,000 plus car, phone and large pension - forget the soldiers poor salary of £17,000 or the nurses low salary of £20,000.
Maybe next time you see a picture of us in the paper congratulating us on our efforts to protect the environment, you'll remember to keep in mind that we probably spent most of our summer days "dossing off" and relaxing in the field before we stepped foot anywhere near any actual work.
I say this from first-hand experience as an ex-Officer myself.
Enjoy the summer and think of our brave boys and girls in the field.
The Flood Commitee has failed to take into account the Environment Agency’s 20-year failure to dredge rivers, nor the cultural and financial failings of the Environment Agency itself, having misspent millions of pounds on inappropriate and unjustified expenses, along with failure to tackle staff member abuses http://po.st/wcGmOR
The Environment Agency has also been criticised for “seriously misleading” people over extent of problem and for failing to act swiftly - this could also be down to staff member failings within the Environmental Management departments - will this finally lead to a review or will further failings be needed? http://po.st/SeKDJl - a Tory MP attacked Environment Agency for saying that the infestation was "not a problem" - problems within EM team? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-27912651
This Flood Committee will be of little use to angry locals concerned that councils & Environment Agency hadn't been maintaining these streams, wasn't clear who was in charge http://www.mix96.co.uk/news/local/1315214/flooding-saga-continues-months-after-homes-dried-up/
Finally, the Flood Committee appears to have ignored the fat identified by us and many other outlets.
The Environment Agency may have to pay back over £1.5m in another dropped case http://bbc.in/1oe2FFh - again, EA culture (especially within EM) seems to be to blame - "...officers were so focused on the potential prospect of punishment that they ignored the realities" http://po.st/YvEx0q
A Environment Agency meeting managed to leave people "angrier than when they arrived" as flood victims fumed over unanswered questions - AGAIN http://bit.ly/1hFP4nw
Is the Environment Agency erecting offending signage without at least consulting with the public - AGAIN? http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/sudbury_tacky_warning_signs_taken_down_by_common_lands_rangers_1_3646786
Communities are now uniting to fight floods and taking the responsibility from the EA http://www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk/farming/11250415.Communities_unite_to_fight_floods/?ref=twtrec
A little hope for members of the public and operators - DEFRA is now taking more control of its quangos - acknowledgement of the Environment Agency's cultural and financial failures? http://www.endsreport.com/44046/defra-to-take-more-control-of-its-quangos
A sign that a national flood operator is incapable of cross-agency work? Maybe a sign that some functions are in conflict with others and time for a rethink of hiving off dedicated functions? http://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/NEWS/11191015.Submerged_village_questions_proposed_flood_defence_scheme/?ref=twtrec
Anyone familiar with this blog and its authors won't be surprised to see another case of Environment Agency ineptitude. It appears the Environment Agency have had to drop another case against a potential polluter and in the process will have to cover court costs exceeding £1.5 million. Not a position a "cash strapped" organisation should be in, especially considering almost two decades of poor flood defence investments.
Although the EA official specifically states that there were no procedural issues, our prior EA experience tells us that it will likely come down to poor procedural process, lack of training or even simple laziness. It is not a good sign that after a year of publicly exposing the waste, incompetence and abuse that these issues are still prevalent. No other explanation has been offered for dropping this case, just as with previous cases that have been dropped and likely will be no internal reviews or public enquiries.
Mr Share expressed what has been exposed here: "we believe that their officers were so focused on the potential prospect of punishment that they ignored the realities"