A major theme we have been reporting about our experiences working inside the Environment Agency is the lack of any control procedures or accountability. This is never more evident than when it comes to equipment given to Environment Agency staff – especially field staff. Mobiles, digital cameras, tools, you name, they are handed out with minimal accountability that many staff have “borrowed” (stolen) the items. Items found to be missing are simply replaced – no investigations and minimal/no auditing or paper trail to trace the missing equipment. Each of these pieces have values in the hundreds, some thousands.

For example, it’s a common method to simply order a new digital camera (worth £200+) and claim not to have received it when it turns up, to then be allowed to order a new digital camera (same with any piece of equipment, whether PPE, tools, etc). Others simply “lose” equipment (keeping it for their own use) and then order replacements. On the rare occasions, we have even heard about Environment Agency staff repeatedly losing equipment, getting replacements and selling the old equipment.

Management of “redundant” equipment is in an even worse mess – stored in open access locations with minimal/no control measures, whereby some staff help themselves to this equipment for use at home. Again, some have been known to take the equipment and sell it on.

God forbid when it comes to office restructuring/moves, where staff have been allowed to procure furniture and equipment at far below market value, some even being allowed to take home furniture and equipment free of charge – this isn’t equipment with limited value, some are worth considerable amounts, many of which have to be replaced because they were needed.

Perhaps this is an issue with the nature of the outsourced purchasing/suppliers the Environment Agency employs (IT procurement is even worse), but public employees cannot be forgiven for “stealing” taxpayer funded equipment. Ultimately, we believe this is part of the Quango ‘mess’ we find in this country, due to the minimal accountability and lack of any independent auditing.

Will this be investigated? Of course not. There is no accountability to anyone outside the organisation (despite what is written down) and no senior manager will put their position, or future prospects on the line to “embarrass” the organisation because there is no personal gain to be had. Keep in mind that most of these behaviours we have exposed on here have been ongoing since the founding of the Environment Agency and are well ingrained within its nature. Many senior managers today were  on the lower rungs in the past doing the exact same things that we expose now.

Luckily, whistle-blowers have one crucial advantage on their side: TIME. If history is teaches us anything, it is that government wrongdoing is eventually exposed, but will the people on watch who allowed this be punished?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Not only is the Environment Agency still misallocating state-funds (through poor investment decisions, poor prioritisation of projects, staff abuses of working time/holiday polices and procedures, over-staffing, etc.) that goes undiagnosed and tackled, but to make matters worse, are considering increasing fees of its monopolistic permits to protect the status quo (rather than tackle the “mess”), which ultimately feeds back to you and me on the streets. But, all this is nothing new, and there is a long-trail of data that ministers can look at both internally and what has slithered through to the media/public. But, unfortunately, the biggest injustice is that this kind of behaviour is replicated throughout quango-world despite this governments promise to take an axe to those that are no longer fit for purpose.

This is a huge, missed opportunity to tackle our nation’s deficit through a well overdue pruning of quangos that are unelected and, for all intents and purposes, uncontrollable. So, understanding this premise, it is frustrating to see numerous reports highlighting these facts over the years (especially most recently), with still no action being taken. Just two weeks ago, there was ANOTHER report released highlighting that the quango system continues to lack accountability, and that it is still in a “mess”Quangos system in a mess: MPs Report (Quangos are a mess and cost billions, say MPs)

The first few paragraphs say it all really:

“Dredging of the River Parrett was highlighted in a report which said the system for overseeing state-funded public bodies is in a ‘mess’. The system for overseeing state-funded public bodies is in a “mess” and lacks accountability, according to MPs. Billions of pounds are ploughed into hundreds of arms-length organisations.”

Even Parliament’s very own website has a section covering “the case against quangos” but it seems the public will continue to suffer the injustice and be shackled to this continuing “mess” of a system that is no longer (or ever was?) fit for purpose through the poorly allocated and bad decisions made by unelected, and unaccountable bodies.

Perhaps my colleague’s idea that the whole point of state bodies, such as quangos, is to solely absorb the failed policies of mass higher education, whereby without these jobsworth organisations, there would be further acute unemployment among graduates, hence the lack of action against quangos like the Environment Agency that itself employees over 11,000 people who find it difficult to keep a busy schedule (as can be witnessed by the open abuse of the working policies and the experiences of EA staff on here and elsewhere).

How many reports, mistakes and misspent public funds will it take for this “mess” to be dealt with?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Environment Officers STILL Giving Misleading & Inconsistent Advice – comment from a member (see comments under How Many Environment Agency Staff To Erect A Sign?):

“I am now bankrupt, the business has gone and I am getting nowhere with EA they just do not want to know, they put the fear of God into me mentioning fines and court action, and back dated fines to when I started trading, they went so over the top in the initial raid I thought of nothing other than being dragged through the courts and publicly humiliated no matter what I did next, so I finally closed to limit the action, it was only just before I closed that they seemed to finally listen, they visited again and I listened to the speech again on how bad it will be for me for not closing as the letter stated and clearing out my stock of classic cars (cherished not scrap) half way through hearing the same things over and over I said look I am about to close all the stock will be scrapped I do not want to be dragged through the courts I cannot afford to defend myself, next week I am closing so you do not need to apply for any orders to clear my yard I told them then I would have to go bankrupt, one because I had wound down the business so I was broke, two the bankruptcy that followed I hoped would stop them from taking any further action, at that point they listened the whole mood changed they went from being oh this is bad things are getting worse, to oh we don’t want you to close we didn’t want that, we will go away and see what we can do! I thought see what you can do?? What does that mean?? We’re they having a whip round at work for me? Baking a cake to say bye? We’re they going go offer me a job dredging rivers because I was out of work soon? They went away and I scratched my head thinking what are they going to do now, surely there is nothing they can “see what they can do” if there was surely they would of done it, well they did come back and the spoke to my colleague and said “can you tell J not to worry he does not need to close we are taking no further action” ?????????? Just get a U16 exemption!!!! The same form they mentioned on day one but another team member instantly dismissed as not being possible because I was clearly trading as a scrap yard!!! Because they said that and spoke of nothing but fines and court action I thought I had no options available to me, why apply for something they said I would not get, after all I was a scrap yard!!! Albeit without any scrap!

So it appears they finally listened and realised I wasn’t defying them I thought they were going to throw the book at me as they say, I expected everything they said during the initial raid was going to happen, why wouldn’t I they are the government, if they say it I believe it, I was boxed into a corner and thought I was stuffed no matter what I did next and bankruptcy was the only option, then and only then did they change, why would a team following procedures say don’t worry we are taking no further action keep trading, they finally listened to me, they listen to my fears of all they said to me on day one, those fears built up and up and I broke, I went to work each day thinking I would be raided again but this time they would humiliate me and empty my workshop and unit then stand me in front of a court for trying to scrape a living and how could I fight against .gov

They went too far they intimidated me, they put the fear of God into me saying what they said, they lied about how many people raided my workshop, I closed because of what they said would happen and it didn’t and it sounds like I was never going to happen.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

National Audit Office is taking the Environment Agency’s own figures at face value. Under those circumstances, it’s no wonder they see the Environment Agency as very cost-effective and a beacon of public sector efficiency… but oh wait – we wonder how cost-effective the EA would look if it’s projects were “independently” verified. Being the de facto flood defence monopoly in this country, it is hard to say whether they are cost-effective considering that there are no other alternatives to compare them with, so how the NAO can determine whether or not the flood defence projects undertaken by the Environment Agency are cost-effective is hard to understand.

Freedom of Information request dated 6th November 2014: List of all flood defence projects that are/have been over budget in financial years 2012/13 and 2013/14 – will they provide the details?

The last year alone (in public/exposed):

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Edie.net have published news regarding the Dredging Up Trouble report written by Blueprint for Water partners. The timing is, of course, very circumspect with us now entering the critical winter period, whereby we can expect more challenging weather (although I insist these should still be within the EA’s modelling, considering their priorities, main remit and the large sums they receive to ensure that this country is protected from a spectrum of conditions that typically lead to flooding – otherwise, there is a large proportion of 11,000-12,000 employed staff doing nothing).

Anyway, time is short, so a real quick run down of the report’s ten priority areas and our take on them:

Protecting life and public health

Already failed on this priority area numerous times – see this blog’s posts, news archive and other media sources (just to name one such recent incident: Environment Agency & council were aware of potential risks of ground gas from an old landfill site next to the family’s home). Protection of/further funding not necessary – the EA simply needs to become more transparent and follow correct procedures. EA already have far more manpower than is required for enforcement of legislation in addition to their other statutory duties.

Natural Flood Management

Already legislation in place to ensure that third-parties (farmers, developers, local authorities etc) ensure appropriate natural and man-made flood management. Mainly manpower driven, which the EA have a huge pool of. Further funding certainly not necessary. Getting staff to actually follow up and complete their work is perhaps a higher priority here.

New Flood Defences

Government already allocated an additional large pool of funding this year to build new, and maintain existing, flood defences. I question how the funding was spent, and how further funding for “new flood defences” will be spent. There are very few control measures employed within the EA to ensure that the funding is spent efficiently on priority projects. More emphasis should be placed on proper prioritisation and efficient spending of existing funding rather than increasing funding.

Flood Recovery

See new flood defences

Sustainable Drainage

See natural flood management

Coping with Climate Change

Beyond natural flood management, new flood defences (within reason), flood recovery and sustainable drainage, and a few minor functions, the Environment Agency would be overstepping their remit – think DECC. The funding level required for ANY organisation to deal with climate change would be astronomical.

Defending Transport & Utilities

Why would the Environment Agency be responsible for defending transport and utilities. Beyond natural flood management, new flood defences (within reason), flood recovery and sustainable drainage, and a few minor functions, the Environment Agency would be overstepping their remit. Most transport and utility organisations are private, and have their own redundancy and security provisions in place. In addition, police, military, local authorities, etc already have remits for the protection/defence of transport and utilities.

Enough staff for emergencies

More than enough staff to cover a large spectrum of emergencies – problem is that too many staff refuse to carry out this duty as part of their contracts. Further emergency assistance is offered by local authority, police, fire and military personnel, to name but a few. Protection of/further funding not necessary. Efficiency and priorities are more important here.

Enforcing the rules

See protecting life and public health – Environment Agency already have far more manpower than is required for enforcement of legislation in addition to their other statutory duties. Plenty of examples on this blog and in the media of EA enforcement officers failing to enforce legislation and even failing to follow procedures when they do, resulting in failed prosecutions (and thus wasting taxpayer funds better spent elsewhere).

A duty of care to communities

See protecting life and public health – Environment Agency already have far more manpower than is required for enforcement of legislation in addition to their other statutory duties. The problem here is too many cases of staff failing in their duties.

I’m sure the report went into far more detailed provisions for each priority, but remove all the make-up and you’re left with the above. It’s almost as if senior managers from the EA/EA hired consultants/EA funded groups wrote the report – plenty of duplication within the top ten priorities, huge emphasis on expanding remit, and nothing mentioned about efficiencies and control measures. Says it all really.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Well, nothing like comparing two similar functions in public sector organisations to see how effectively our tax money is spent. Being new to this blog, thought I’d post my own experience. Here’s two similar roles in two public sector organisations – one Quango, one council.

  • Environmental Enforcement Officer with Local Council: £17,000 to £21,000 + council van
  • Environment Officer with Environment Agency: £24,287 to £31,591 + lease car (choice of large, medium or small) and phone (both available for personal use – surprisingly true)
  • Both similar perks and pensions

Having worked in both roles, can honestly say that Environment Enforcement Officers (local councils) have far greater and more complex workloads than Environment Officers, yet are either underpaid (or Environment Officers overpaid). Being in the private sector now, I’m leaning more towards Environment Officers with the EA being vastly overpaid for the workload and complexity (or lack thereof) compared to Environmental Enforcement Officers with the local councils.

That’s just one job role – many, many more whereby the EA seem to vastly overpay similarly qualified staff with similar levels of workload and workload complexity as equivalent staff in other government bodies. Perhaps a sign that Quango’s just don’t quiet work the same as the civil service when it comes to spending precious public money wisely.

And for final comparison a recent job offer from Darlington Borough Council for Environmental Protection Officer. The pay: £12,050 – £15,137 (£20,083 – £25,228 FT equivalent) – no vehicles provided – similar (same) role in the EA in the same area? Still £24,287 to £31,591 with lease car and phone both available for personal use (surprisingly true).

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Most instances, when illegal waste disposals (fly tipping) are reported to the Environment Agency, the first thing Environment Officers do is find any opportunity to pass the book to the local council’s environment team. Unofficial rule is that any illegal waste disposal that is under a certain size or perceived weight (varies between officers, teams and regions and far removed from official statutory guidelines) gets shoved off to the council, and only if we (the EA) are pressed on cases will we begin to move on it – especially if an MP or councillor gets involved (a tip for those experiencing problems with regulated activities).

Environment Officers like easy cases, or cases that will put them in the limelight or that help with their promotions – the dumping of a few hundreds tyres, fridges or bags of rubbish doesn’t interest them – no evidence sought, usually no one will attend or follow up on the incident (not even a quick phone call). A few thousands tyres on identifiable land will get our attention – we are very quick to act against the landowner, whether guilty or innocent, that is unless it is land owned by the EA itself – which we have been known to turn a blind eye to until called upon by the public, and again, this becomes pass the parcel inside the EA on what department should pick up the costs of disposal.

God forbid you are the unfortunate landowner impacted by illegal waste disposal. Seldom will investigating officers seek the real culprits unless you can provide evidence yourself (thus doing the Environment Officer’s work for them). Despite spending tens of thousands on external investigatory training courses, few staff will follow even the most obvious lines of inquiry if they can quickly point a finger at someone. Same with investigations into pollution incidents – we are supposed to follow all lines of inquiry and not jump to conclusions, but this is seldom done – as a result, many, many cases are dropped early on without prosecuting those responsible, and in many cases, there have been failed prosecutions by the EA within the court system (see other blog posts here).

In essence, illegal waste disposals (fly tipping) is not something the Environment Agency takes seriously unless it requires little effort. Even larger scale issues we have been known to turn a blind eye to even if we know about it but the public do not report it (sometimes even if they do) – another unofficial rule of thumb espoused by Environment Officers is to “drive with your blinkers on” – no point making extra work for yourself if it isn’t on anyone’s radar.

Should you be surprised by this attitude? Probably not. These are the same Environment Officers that seldom inspect the sites they are tasked to regulate without external pressure (hence the huge controversies in the media re waste sites/fires/storage issues). Don’t get me wrong, there are a few Environment Officers who go out of their way to deal with illegal waste disposals and to regulate the sites they have, unfortunately, they are few and far between.

Back to my point about the pareto principle and the EA in our earlier posts – 20% of the Environment Officers do the work of the remaining 80%. This is down to the culture implemented within the EA by team leaders and management, whereby there is very little oversight and field staff are given free rein to do as they please.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Welcome to the new blog design for Inside the Environment Agency. Unfortunately, with the move to using WordPress, there has been an issue porting over the hundreds of blog comments left over the past year or so, which may cause some confusion with past blog posts considering some are based around these comments, especially some of the Environment Agency Staff Experience posts. We will have this resolved in due course. Still, feel free to leave new comments on any of our posts.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Despite warnings and evidence given to the EA showing Environment Officers abusing their flexi hours holiday and home working privileges, it appears that no action has been taken by senior management. This is still a systemic problem that has yet to be tackled.

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 holiday to Ibiza, but you only have 8 ‘official’ days leave, no problems, 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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail