Cuts to Environment Agency jobs would be “catastrophic”

UNISON has repeated warnings that the decision to axe a further 1500 Environment Agency workers is “potentially catastrophic” in the wake of a series of devastating storms that have caused enormous damage to the UK’s flood defences. 

The Christmas storms caused major disruption and loss of life with the clean up bill expected to run into hundreds of millions of pounds.  

Area staff are at the forefront of the service, protecting the public by directly maintaining rivers, deploying sandbags, giving flooding warnings, surveying protected species, dealing with pollution incidents and informing local consenting and planning. 

The union, that represents 4500 staff in the Environment Agency, understands that employee numbers will be cut from 11,250 to around 9,700 by October 2014, with the possibility of further redundancies in the future as a result of a 9% reduction in Government revenue funding. Directorates within the Agency have been instructed to start reducing temporary and contract staff immediately, with a restriction on recruitment. 

With the Government’s fixation on cost cutting, UNISON is warning that cost must not come before public safety and protecting family homes.

UNISON National Officer for the Environment Agency, Matthew Lay, said:

“The severe floods over the past year should serve as a warning to the Government and the public that making cuts is not only dangerous but potentially catastrophic.  Staff in the Agency have worked day and night to keep communities safe and prevent flood damage, and work tirelessly to support those devastated by the aftermath. The government can’t have it both ways, praising the sterling work of members in the Agency but at the same time imposing further damaging cuts.

“There is a significant cost associated with managing flooded land, and cutting services to save money in the short term is a false economy. There’s a real danger that cutting staff will reduce the Agency to a crisis management level, with less maintenance and infrastructure to deal with emergencies. On top of this, there is a real risk of a significant loss of knowledge and emerging talent.

“Environment Agency staff did a brilliant job over Christmas, working long hours and going the extra mile despite being stretched to the limit. Making so many skilled workers redundant will seriously effect the Agency’s ability to manage incidents.”

The coalition government’s flawed austerity drive has already resulted in 2,000 jobs being cut from the Environment Agency. However, previous cuts were made too fast too soon, leading to some posts being reinstated. 

The Environment Agency has a single job – to look after the environment and make it a better place to live. It protects homes from impending floods and warns householders, keeps river water clean for recreation and wildlife and influences or prosecutes polluters. It licenses the amount of water taken out of rivers and ensures there is enough for both human consumption and wildlife. It also regulates the waste management and nuclear energy industries.

Figures published in 2013 by the Association of British Insurers showed that the cost of flood damage alone since 2000 has leapt by 200% on the previous decade.


Glen Turner
Press Officer

0207 121 5555
Twitter @UNISONPress1