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Environment Agency worker claims job cuts will hit body’s ability to respond to incidents like Norfolk and Suffolk flooding

PUBLISHED: 06:30 07 January 2014

Walcott one-month after the floods. Colin Pealing rebuilds a seafront wall he lost to the sea surge.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Walcott one-month after the floods. Colin Pealing rebuilds a seafront wall he lost to the sea surge. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

An Environment Agency worker has claimed plans to cut 1,500 jobs could hit the body’s ability to respond to incidents like the recent Norfolk and Suffolk floods.

The employee, who wanted to be known as Pete, said the agency was “flailing” as staff were being dispatched around the country to deal with the prolonged storms, adding that things would only get worse if the planned job cuts took place.

The employee, who works in operations delivery and has covered the East of England, also said the agency’s ability to maintain existing defences would be affected by a dramatic cut in the revenue budget.

It comes as MPs have raised concerns over the Environment department’s ability to respond to emergencies in the face of swingeing budget cuts, in a report out today.

Half a billion pounds has been cut from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) budget since 2010 and the department is facing further cuts of more than £300 million over the next two years, the MPs warned.

But a spokesman for Defra said the department was currently spending more than £2.3 billion on tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion.

And Paul Leinster, Environment Agency chief executive said the Environment Agency had to save money and reduce staff numbers, like the rest of the public sector.

“We are looking to protect frontline services and our ability to respond to flooding when it occurs. The Environment Agency will still be a £1bn business with around 10,000 staff, covering a range of work to protect people and the environment.”

But the Environment Agency operations worker said that the revenue budget, which was being cut, was used for maintaining existing defences. “It is like having a brand new car and never servicing it. That is the big concern for us out there on the ground.”

He also warned that the cuts would have an impact on the body’s ability to maintain rivers, by carrying out tasks such as clearing reeds and de-silting. He also said that responsibility for keeping rivers clear would fall more on private owners who were not necessarily “competent” at dealing with incidents, such as fallen trees.

He said: “We are the ones who are the liaison with the public, who are directly affected by the flood warnings.”

“What has been happening is that staff are being asked to go to area offices and cross subsidise those people that are tired, but that then means that other areas of the country become more vulnerable to heavy rainfull. We just seem to be trying to shift the resource around and that can’t fulfil the obligations of what is required, and that is without the 15pc staff cuts being proposed.

“Really at the minute we are coping, dare I say, but you can see how things are only going to get worse with the job cuts.”

“Everybody has a contracted role in the agency, but they might be a telephone call handler in times of emergency.”

He added that the agency seemed to be responding more frequently to incidents.

What do you think about the Environment Agency cuts? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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