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. We'd like to encourage all to leave their comments* - we already have hundreds of comments from serving and ex-EA staff, members of the public and even some media folk. Click the top left icon for about and to explore past posts. Follow us @EnvAgencyAbuse - Blog stats: 987,379 hits and supported by 34 serving and ex-EA staff members as of 07/03/14. *Spam filter might prevent some messages being posted.
Good piece from the Private Eye on current culture of the Environment Agency - nothing new that hasn't been reported on this blog:
"Bullying, harassment and discrimination
There were 33 “special severance payments”, all of which carried draconian confidentiality clauses aimed at silencing aggrieved employees (and potential whistleblowers). With senior QCs being involved in many of the actions, the cost to taxpayers in severance payments and legal fees was more than £3m. The figures were uncovered by the GMB trade union under freedom of information rules.
Cronies on the payroll
The report found that there was a “macho culture” at the agency: staff described their workplace as “combative, aggressive, non-collaborative”. (This tallies with the verdict of the agency’s former head of HR, Ruth Cornish, who says the EA was run by “power crazed… people that couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag”.) Others said their bosses were “overly aggressive, intimidating, overly robust, and bullish in nature”, with a “my way or the highway attitude”. Female employees complained that there was a football-terraces culture.
The agency’s public relations budget – not including salaries – is more than £2.5m. If it didn’t have to spend so much on image-buffing and payoffs and well-rewarded cronies, perhaps it could afford to dredge a few more rivers."
The Private Eye forgot to include the golden positions in Environmental Management and FCRM departments, where staff receive gold plated salaries, pensions, extensive freedom and lack of oversight, where abuse of processes (flexi time, annual leave, mileage), systems and even some legal procedures are accepted as the norm and overlooked by senior managers.
Welcome to the inside world of the Environment Agency that few get to see.
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)
- Budget and staffing levels that rival French, Danish, German, Swedish, Austrian and Canadian Environment Agencies COMBINED
- 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
- 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) but refused £1.7million dredging in Somerset
- Single water abstraction licence for Avoncliff costing £152 cost the taxpayer ~£611,000-£1.5 million
- A £2 million Environment Agency case ended with a fine of just £1,000
- 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.
In addition to the dozens of Environment Agency staff experiences posted previously on this blog (see More Environment Agency Staff Experiences #1, 2, 3 & 4), here are more that have come in over the past few weeks:
Michael B.: "Ok, I've noticed a few other EA staff posting. I worked as an Environment Officer between 2008-2011. I won't mention location. I can confirm some of the things posted here, like staff taking the mick with flexitime and their annual leave, bullying and some cases of claiming for things they shouldn't have. Other things I'm not sure I have witnessed, but I'm sure happen too. The problem really comes down to lazy team leaders and lazy managers. Like any other organisation, if you leave the staff to do as they please, they will take advantage. I think any future reviews should look at the management of staff. It should look at improving staff monitoring. There should be stricter home working and remote working rules. That's my two cents worth."
Jeremy: "Ah, the good old days of being an Environment Officer. The days when you had to beg for work because there was so little to do. It's been many years, but sounds like nothing has changed. Do you still do drive arounds to find work to do? I remember the days fondly, driving around aimlessly for hours trying to find anything to build up workload."
John: "You can consider me one of those senior EA manager - worked in various functions for 9 years, the last 3 as a AEM before leaving in 2011. Most functions outside of FCRM are over funded and inefficient (sustainable places, biodiversity, groundwater, fisheries, even EM itself). At least a fifth of the budget could be re-allocated to higher priority projects by reducing these functions without any detrimental impact to their ability to meet legislative requirements. Unfortunately, the Pitt Review from the 2007 floods was rushed, so didn't go far enough, otherwise, the EA would not again be in the position it is in. That being said, there are some very fine, hard-working and dedicated employees."
Yokel: "I see you're mainly talking about EM and FCRM staff. Yes, they are known to take advantage of privileges given to them, but I want to point out that other staff, like myself, who work in permitting and other office based roles don't get these privileges. I think you should make it even clearer that you are discussing EM and FCRM staff or you might tar us all with the same brush."
Groundwaterman: "You know what the problem is with management here? Too much back scratching with the jobs going to pals instead of the best qualified. I read your post about the recruitment and promotion process. Spot on with that. Loads of managers and team leaders who are either married, related in some way or were good buddies before the Agency. I fear nothing will change, even with this kind of publicity ... These floods have highlighted that we should be much more nimbler, whereas we are top heavy and not enough boots on the ground to respond quickly to incidents. It's a message that has been going around for years - at least since 2007."
Jason: "Just visiting this blog having been discussing in the office. I work for the EA. Have done going on 9 years. Can't say I have experienced everything on here, but I definitely can relate to the lazy Environment Officers types strolling in and leaving when they please, always on leave or browsing eBay. I think some of them have a chip on their shoulder and should be brought back down to reality ... I have a team leader who supervises three staff including me. She has a manager who she reports to, who has a manager who he reports to, who reports to a Director, who also reports to a Director, who then reports to the Chief Executive. That's just one team. There are dozens strewn across the office floor of this size with the same structure. Nonsense."
Anon: "London has not been mentioned much on this site yet but I know first hand that EA staff especially in London offices who are bluffing management and getting away with it on a weekly basis. They claim to be onsite visits, attending doctor appointments or WFH and they are either lying in the beds or doing nothing. As for flexi time officers have free rain of this and take as many days as they want and this is never looked into by management. Some are completely exceeding their flexi time allowances and adding 15-20 days onto there annual leave therefore 45-50 days off per year!"
Retired man: "Speaking from experience and looking at this blog, I can see that things have changed little from when I worked for the EA. Despite the media's positive portrayal of the workers, they are only seeing the small numbers who really care about the work they do. It's a far cry from the thousands who couldn't care less and game the system. There is talk about how workers volunteer for these additional duties, but what they forget to mention is that they will get tons of time off afterwards - I mean 2 days for every 1 for recuperation they say. They are, of course, paid for their time on duty and the recuperation days off. I've worked in a number of public bodies and I have found that the EA has by far the most perks and highest pay for workers, but these aren't matched to the benefits the workers or EA bring to the country. It is one of those places that seldoms falls under the public eye. But don't listen to me, I'm just an old man past my time."
Ops: "We have 8 Environment Officers in this office who spend most of their time reading meters. Times that by 17+ area offices = 136 EOs tasked with mundane tasks getting paid £25,000+ each = £340,000 + pension, phones and lease cars = £400,00+ that could be used to pay our ops guys on the ground who actually are working their socks off. Too much waste in other departments."
Felix: "I have been working with the EA since 2004. If the people of Somerset knew the distaste our line managers have for them, there would be revolts in the streets. Environmentalism comes first followed by flexi working. People, homes and businesses comes right down at the bottom of the list. The only time we have done something in the interest of people and homes is when MPs or the media get involved, and then it's all hands on deck."
Mr D Duck: "I can only talk for what I have observed over my 10 years. Some people do exploit the system, others often work over their mandatory 37.4 hours/week and do not book the flexi-time. I typically have a 20 minute lunch break perhaps once a week, the other 4 days of the week I work through, but continue to book a 30 minute lunch break. I am not the only person who does this or something similar in our Area. Other people stroll in outside of core hours. Who knows what they book on their flexi-card!? Other, especially EM/H&T Officer often book 2pm site visits and are not seen again that day. Everyone knows what they are doing, but nothing ever happens. The system is open to exploitation. It is left to the employees morality."
Anon op's: "I work for the EA in op's and I know of a few people in different area's who have put their name forward to go down and help if needed. Yes, there is some people in the EA who don't deserve to have a job but thats the same in any large organisation public or private, but there is a lot who do care about what they do and who it affects. Workers in op's have been saying for years places needed dredging but it's always fell on deaf ears."
Ruth Cornish - Prior Head of HR Operations of the Environment Agency
Would you like to see what the prior Head of HR Operations of the Environment Agency has to say about the organisation in comparison to fat cat bankers? Read Ruth's post from 2012 describing the very same organisation depicted here, but from its own ex-Head of HR: http://ruthcornish.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/body-bags.html
The only thing that seems to have changed is that less senior personnel are now abusing processes.
It isn't just England's EA that is under the limelight due to abuses. First it was the US EPA, now it's the NI Environment Agency: Mark H Durkan orders 'root and branch' review of environment agency. The best thing that could come out of this blog is that our Environment Agency might just get its house in order before it, too, faces a 'root and branch' review, then perhaps we can rejoice saying "job done". But the increase in remote workers with corresponding little oversight/management will only lead us to believe that the number of incidents of abuse is only going to increase.
Seems the unions can't keep their snouts out of the trough. Not only are they actively (sometimes aggressively) selling union memberships, by using scare tactics (parroting exaggerated jobs losses, pension cuts, etc.), they are now desperately trying to hijack the additional £130m of funding from government designated for flood defence activities to subsidise staff numbers.
Keep in mind that the 15% cut in staff numbers are largely inefficient, redundant functions, many of which have nothing to do with flooding. If GMB had any concious, or logical faculties, it would realise the importance of improving the Environment Agency's efficiency by cutting unnecessary staff numbers, and redeploying funding to higher priority activities, such as capital projects that have largely been neglected.
I remind the GMB of the unsustainable staff and pension costs, which currently stand at around £592 million (almost half of the £1.2B budget), and the minuscule spend on capital and maintenance budgets, which stood at just £219m and £20m, respectively.
Perhaps the GMB could raise the issue of fraudulent claims and internal abuse before propping up unsustainable numbers, or better yet, it could tackle some of the exorbitant spending activities by managers, both totalling in excess of the £130m boost.
Maybe the GMB can explain how extra staff numbers (largely outside flood defence) could help situations like this, due to lack of funds (largely due to inefficiencies and poor priorities): "TAXPAYERS are being asked to bridge a £350,000 funding gap to keep the pumps open at Alt Crossens. Risk Somerset-style floods swamping the borough. The Environment Agency is trying to pass the buck on this matter" - http://www.osadvertiser.co.uk/news/ormskirk-news/2014/02/20/alt-crossens-flooding-fears-as-pumps-may-be-turned-off-80904-34342790/
GMB desperately trying to absorb extra £130m funding designated for floods to subsidise staff numbers http://www.mrw.co.uk/news/union-presses-ea-on-how-new-funding-will-be-used/8659235.article?blocktitle=Latest-news&contentID=2186
Joe points out GMB vested interests: "GMB aren't worried about the people, they are worried about losing 1,700 potential members paying nearly £12 per month, or potentially £20,400 per month. They will be worried about others jumping ship, too once they realise that the GMB can't do anything to protect their jobs in a struggling economy..."
A story in the Sunday Express has only highlighted "some" of the waste and abuse we have witnessed internally at the Environment Agency - it's only the tip of the iceberg - there are also losses due to abuse of flexi time, home working and annual leave, as well as fraudulent mileage claims and misallocation of funds for failing projects, which all add to the millions lost each year this malfunctioning/unelected Quango:
Directors at the agency declined their bonuses but lower down the hierarchy 38 managers shared a pool of £334,000.
A Sunday Express investigation also found the agency spent a fortune on six-figure redundancy payouts while cutting the budget for flood defence work.
Figures show that in the past two years, 14 employees have left with six-figure cheques, of which four were in excess of £150,000.
In the past two years the agency, run by £190,000-a-year chief executive Dr Paul Leinster, has spent £5 million in all on redundancies yet it has increased its permanent workforce from 10,701 to 11,177 in the past year with a total wage bill of £350 million (EDIT: Excluding the pension bill, which would bring it to over £592 million - half of it's budget - significantly more than the grant-in-aid).
Meanwhile, its spending on maintaining culverts and channels to help the flow of watercourses dipped by £1.3 million last year.
Another £3.6 million was trimmed off the budget to build or improve embankments that protect communities from floods.
Jonathan Isaby, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Chiefs at the quango must be held to account over how they have squandered its massive budget and its serious failing during the floods.”
This doesn't include the posh hotels and expensive consultants hired to train EA staff, which can be done internally by more senior members at their own offices.
Let's not also forget the Mail's article: Why did Environment Agency spend hundreds on 'equali-tea' gay awareness mugs... and £30,000 on gay pride marches? As Britain counts cost of shoddy defences, we reveal bizarre spending by quango bosses - summary:
- Spent over £250k from 2011 to mid-2012 on meetings at private venues, despite having over two dozen offices around the country
- Cost of the mugs is enough to buy more than 250 sandbags to protect flood victims’ homes
- Birmingham Pride 2009, which the agency sponsored to the tune of £30,000
I'd like to extend my thoughts to those who have been impacted by the devastating floods hitting our nation over this festive season. My thoughts especially go out to the brave men and women working in our emergency services and the "very" few Environment Agency staff who are actually doing their job and who are helping to alleviate the impacts
My experiences working in, combined with a recent comment from a EA staff members, has left me wondering whether these recent flood incidents have been exasperated due to mismanagement and internal abuse, especially by senior managers and team leaders, of flood assets funded and built to minimise the effects of these flood incidents - here he states:
"In the Region I work in, over the last 5 - 10 years KPI (key performance indicators - traffic light system) targets have been met with a green light, giving the impression to the public and the Agency bosses / government that all its assets are in good working order and as the KPI % increased each year the EA appeared to be doing a sterling job by improving the condition of its assets each year. This is however far from what was really going on. The figures where being manipulated so bosses could claim to be meeting there targets / IPP performance and perhaps as a result of this a promotion / pay rise, actually a lot of assets that failing where being passed as fit for purpose. I'm sure the tax paying public a those relying on these assets would be appalled by this attitude."
As another EA member put it, "it doesn't help that 99% of the staff, mostly Environment and Flood Officers, refuse to do standby or volunteer to assist with flooding emergencies. This is despite it being in their contract. It leaves us undermanned and ill prepared, but managers won't do anything about but claim they need to employ more staff. Really, management just want to expand their kingdoms"
I have personal experience of Environment Agency team leaders and senior managers pressurising staff to exaggerate incidents and EA mitigation activities. I have also heard Flood Officers discuss being pressurised to under report problems they experience on our flood defence networks. I think these are key issues that should be looked into during the next review in addition to what has already been expressed previously in this blog and by others.
Thanks to my very loyal colleague who still works inside the Environment Agency (although also disillusioned by it all), I now have a copy of the annual leave record cards used by staff. This is kept by the staff member, completed by the staff member and signed by the line manager. As exposed in an earlier post, this system is regularly abused by significant numbers of staff members, including line management. Despite staff only being entitled to 25 to 30 days annual leave (plus additional flexi days - if they put in the hours), I have witnessed, and my loyal internal friends still attest to, many staff taking far in excess of these entitlements - as many as three months in some instances.
Working hours are similarly logged on a simple spreadsheet and updated to the IBIS system by the staff members themselves (there has been discussions about the money wasted on this archaic system in the news). Apparently, abuse of this system is also continuing, despite the recent announcement of cuts. Again, as mentioned in earlier posts, I have witnessed staff come in at 10am and go home at 3pm and still record that they worked 9am to 5pm (7am to 3pm, 10am to 6pm, etc). Other abuses still apparently continue, such as field staff (especially Environment Officers) claiming to carry out site/incident visits, but in actual fact going home, going shopping and carrying out other domestic activities whilst claiming to be working, staff with home working privileges who do anything but, as well as claiming back higher mileage expenses than what they actually incur - I remember one Officer who claimed to be making an additional £90-100 per month through logging extra mileage.
Hopefully, this blog will continue to paint a picture of the actual internal workings of the Environment Agency. It should help illustrate the amount of waste and mismanagement taking place. This is, of course, leaving out the bullying and harassment of staff members who don't tow the line and of operators who question our decisions.
Publicsectortravel.org.uk have recently published a chart showing Environment Agency business travel over the past four years. It's an interesting chart showing how business travel has grown 22% over the past year alone (despite budget cuts) - keep in mind that this is before the severe weather of the past few months.
The biggest problem with business travel in the EA, as pointed out last year on this blog, is how many staff use it as a method of increasing their pay. It is a process wide open to abuse, in a similar way to how the flexi time and annual leave system is abused. A large proportion of the team members in the numerous teams I have been in, have openly admitted to fixing the mileage system by claiming to have driven as much as 20-25% more miles than they actually have. So, when analysing the business travel chart above, keep in mind that from my estimations, at least £1.8-4.5 million of that almost £18 million expenditure is pocketed fraudulently.
Interesting story about the Somerset Levels from my good friends at the Avon cliff blog and a commentator (whistleblower?) at the Bishop Hill blog. Email posted with attached map to explain current predicament and lack of action by EA over the past decade on the Somerset Levels - another reason for giving more flood responsibility back to the Drainage Boards?
Even though I, and many of the other whistleblowers here, have witnessed some very interesting activities during our time inside, we continue to be surprised by some of the data we come across on the outside (think the fact that the EA have one vehicle for every two staff).
Here is some more data that caught us by surprise from John Redwood's Diary blog post What the Today programme should have asked the Environment Agency and The Independent The Environment Agency requires scrutiny:
"The Environment Agency is an enormous quango, with an enormous budget. It employs 11,177 staff directly, and another 1,075 on temporary contracts. In 2012-13, its running costs were £1.2bn. Its capital works budget for that year was £219m, of which less than a tenth –£20.3m – went on improving channels for the free flow of water."
"The staff costs of the Agency rose by £30m or 8% compared to the previous year, reaching a total of £395.3 million. The Agency employed 12,252 people including temps and contractor personnel. Pension contributions cost £56 m , with a loss on the fund recognised that year in the accounts bringing the total pension cost to £197.4 million. The total cost of pensions was almost as high as the capital works, where they spent £219million during the year."
"They should have asked where all the £1200 million spent last year went. Why was only £20 m spent on maintaining ditches and culverts? Why so little on dredging? Why have dredging machines been sold off for scrap or allowed to rust without use in some places? Why did the INCREASE in the staff budget, £30m, exceed the total spend on essential maintenance?"
We have our own answers to these questions, based on our years of experience working at the Environment Agency, but we will leave you to form your own opinions.
The Spectator has been overly critical of the Chairman and the Environment Agency - Is it time to scrap the Environment Agency?
Interesting trivia on number of Environment Agency vehicles from the Avoncliff Blog, which even I didn't know: "To carry out its field duties, the EA operates a fleet of 4,747 company cars funded on contract hire with full maintenance (at high expense, along with the documented abuse of the mileage claim back system highlighted in this blog), with an additional 1,920 badged 4x4s. That's nearly 7,000 vehicles (plus trucks) - that's more than one official vehicle for every two employees... which does seem quite high - no?"
"Drivers of leased vehicles at the EA are paid a mileage rate and are not issued with fuel cards. This makes it very difficult for the EA to capture and analyse mileage data on each vehicle at the end of its contract, as it is recorded on a driver basis, rather than a vehicle basis" - resulting in abuse of the mileage system when staff over-report business mileage primarily by claiming expenses on personal trips/exaggerating business miles.
More money seems to be spent on high staff salaries, inefficient systems, unnecessary vehicles and toys, lost work time from system abuses, and excess number of managers/"specialists" than on flood defences!
Alan Blenkhorn makes a good point in the comments: "The Environment Agency was formed in 1996, so less than 20 years old. In almost every one of those years, the agency has been mired in controversy - the short flight debacle, flood defence failings, management bonuses, ad infinitum. The agency just does not work, so why won't this government do the right thing and reform it?"
We'd like to express our deepest appreciation for the actual teams on the ground, right on the front line - the Environment Agency Ops teams. These are the lowest on the totem pole, poorest paid who receive little appreciation and are seldom listened to, despite their local expert knowledge. These are the teams you see on your TV working 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week to clear up this mess, 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 an EA Ops team manning the pumps, delivering sandbags or helping evacuate people, give them a little of your appreciation - 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, sometimes triple the salaries of these poor "grunt" teams (as they are referred to internally).
Good job guys - keep up the good work. We recognise the "behind the scenes" work you do that others at the EA take credit for!
Have we got the design of the Environment Agency wrong - 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."
|National EA||Land Area (km2)||Coastline (km)||Population||Staff||Budget|
|England (exc Wales/Scotland)||130,395||12,429||53 million||11,200||£1.2B|
|United States EPA||9,826,675||19,924||313.9 million||15,913||£4.8B|
|Canadian EA||9,984,670||202,080||34.9 million||6,800||£0.52B|
|Below 5 EU EAs COMBINED||1,608,777||17,774||169.9 million||3,677||£0.82B
Although not a perfect like-for-like comparison, it does put the size of our Environment Agency in perspective - so what choices are you talking about Lord Smith, because it appears you receive more than enough to carry out the duties you have been given. Maybe if you took care of the large scale abuse/waste by staff, and the mismanagement by senior and line managers, you might find you have more than enough to protect "town and country".
References below - all Environment Agencies have very similar duties: environmental protection, water resource management, severe weather monitoring, ecology, sustainable development, climate change adaptation, waste regulations, environmental planning, air quality and pollution, general pollution monitoring and enforcement, fisheries, navigation, flood and coastal management and major industry regulation. Some, like the French, US and Canadian EAs have additional duties such as management of energy industry, which in the UK falls under DECC.
In the UK, as in other countries, there are also other bodies responsible for flood management, including the local councils and emergency services - Do councils deal with flooding?
England's EA is almost the size of the Canadian, Danish, French, German, Swedish and Austrian EAs COMBINED! Going by these statistics, it would appear that the Environment Agency is overstaffed by around 9,000 and has a budget that appears to be £0.5-1 billion too much.
This, along with what I and others have experienced, highlights the dire need for an indepth analysis and review of the Environment Agency with the aim of restructuring the body to ensure that tax payer money is being spent effectively.
References: English Environment Agency | German Federal Environment Agency | French Energy & Environment Agency | Swedish EPA | Austrian EA | Danish EPA | List of countries by length of coastline | US EPA| Environment Canada
The devastating impacts of the recent floods has highlighted the dire need for much more money to be invested in flood defences and maintenance programmes. The Environment Agency, this government and prior governments have failed to set appropriate priorities to mitigate the growing threat of flooding from severe weather. They were all caught blind sided, and now they are more interested in PR and photo opportunities.
What is needed is a full and robust look at the way in which we invest and deal with flood management in this country. It is blindingly obvious that the current status quo does not work - randomly cutting budgets has not helped, untreated mismanagement and incompetence within Agencies has not helped, not heeding the advice of local experts has not helped, having billions of pounds and critical responsibilities split between several stakeholders has not helped.
What is needed is a joined up approach from local authorities, local communities and local experts with their national counterparts, and a ring-fenced, "dedicated" budget for flood defence management and maintenance. Whether flood defence management and maintenance remains with the Environment Agency, whether it goes to local authorities or to a new body depends on who will best provide the most effective and efficient flood defence service. At present, the EA has been found to have too many conflicting duties and wasteful processes to do what is necessary to put people first and protect "town and country".
If this government does not learn the lessons from this travesty, it will likely find itself ousted from power come next year's elections.
The people of this nation demand accountability and responsibility, the question is, who will step up and do the right thing?
The only question the Environment Agency needs to answer: is it spending its money wisely? Insiders have given their take on this. £395 million spent on staff (£592 million including pensions) vs £219 million on capital projects, and just £20 million on maintaining rivers just doesn't cut it.
In recent news stories, Lord Smith is accusing ministers of playing politics with the floods, but as I pointed out last year in one of my most earliest posts, politics has been a key game played by management at the Environment Agency. There have been numerous occasions where management have discussed strategic drawback from critical projects with the objective of appearing to need more funding and to cause upset among constituents of MPs they don't like. Management have allowed personal feelings to influence how they handle incidents, and have favoured certain MPs and councillors over others. This is nothing new and is a regular part of doing business inside the Environment Agency.
As for having their hands tied by the Treasury, I presume that the abuse of working, flexitime and annual leave processes is the fault of the Treasury also? Or maybe the £31 million spent on a bird habitat instead of flood maintenance? Or how about the £395 million spent on staff (£592 million including pensions) vs £219 million on capital projects, and just £20 million on maintaining rivers.
Seems the Environment Agency is quick to play foul when the shoe is on the other foot.
Perhaps Lord Smith should air out his own cupboards and expose how management within the Environment Agency have used past incidents to gain favourable political positioning, how they spend significant amounts on political training for management/senior staff, PR staffing and programmes, and how management have used their positions to influence favoured MPs/councillors over others.
Environment Agency bosses spent £2.4million on PR... but refused £1.7million dredging of key Somerset rivers that could have stopped flooding - does that include PR staff salaries and pensions? Does it include the political training given to management and senior staff? Does it include other communications programmes with the aim of influencing public and politicians that the EA have classified under another heading (other than PR)?
UPDATED: Environment Agency boosted spending by £41m last year - so, EA spending actually went UP in 2012/13:
"In 2012-13 the EA spent £1207.4m compared to £1166.6m the year before. It ended the year with £95.8m cash in the bank. We are told the “cuts” stopped it doing a good job on flooding. How big an increase in spending would it take to qualify as no cut?"
A recent comment has brought home the failure at the EA - it is the EA Ops people who you see out on the ground doing the grunt work, yet they are some of the lowest paid in the organisation - Ops says: "We have 8 Environment Officers in this office who spend most of their time reading meters. Times that by 17+ area offices = 136 EOs tasked with mundane tasks getting paid £25,000+ each = £340,000 + pension, phones and lease cars = £400,00+ that could be used to pay our ops guys on the ground who actually are working their socks off. Too much waste in other departments."
Seems EA staff are being warned against public exposure and openness - Josh has posted: "My team leader has told everyone during a team meeting that anyone posting negative comments on public forums or to media will face disciplinary action for bringing the EA into disrepute. You've been warned."
Rye Environment Agency whistleblower
THE Environment Agency has strongly refuted claims by one of its own workforce that vital maintenance work on the River Rother has not been carried out. An anonymous whistle-blower who works for the Environment Agency locally claims the company is failing to carry out essential maintenance work - Environment Agency ‘neglecting vital maintenance work’
“It is all being pushed under the carpet when it should not be. Management have not got a clue and they don’t care. We have four people off with stress. Work should have been done but it hasn’t been."
Environment Agency delayed work to rail flood defences
Environment Agency delayed work to rail flood defences just days before storm hit so bird survey could be completed: Just a few days before storms destroyed the seafront at Dawlish and cut the rail link, the agency said it could not act to protect it from the sea until it had studied the impact of improvements on the local birdlife.
– Playing “divide and rule” by “trying to set town against country”
– Letting the EA become “riddled with politically correct” eco-fanatics opposed to dredging
– Presiding as the organisation “lost its way”
– Spending 20 times more money on its bloated bureaucracy than on keeping rivers clear