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EA Grant Cut By Quarter

Monday, February 10, 2014

Environment Agency Grant Has Been Cut By More Than A Quarter In Real Terms Before New 10% Cuts Says GMB

Pickles can point a finger anywhere he likes but it was his government who not only took their finger out the wall of the dyke but smashed a huge hole in its side with penny wise and pound foolish cuts says GMB.

GMB, the union for staff at the Environment Agency (EA), commented on the statement by Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency in Guardian of 10th January 2014. See notes to editors for copy of statement.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer for members at EA, said “Chris Smith has come out fighting at last in defence of the Environment Agency and its exhausted and overstretched staff and laid the blame squarely where it belongs - at the door of central government and their the penny wise and pound foolish cuts.

At the root of the current flooding crisis are successive years of central government cuts that have trimmed maintenance budgets to unsustainable levels.

Facts are stubborn things. In 2009-10 total grants to the Environment Agency were £846.7m.  For 2010-11 there were cut to £799.6m, for 2011-12 they were cut to £749.5m, in 2012-13 there were further cuts to £723m.  There was a further cut of £14m for this year. This is a reduction of 16% and during this period inflation has increased by 11%. In real terms the grant has been cut by more than a quarter.

That is before the latest 10% hack at the budget for 2014- 15 announced by Osborne last summer. 

Pickles can point a finger anywhere he likes but it was his government who not only took their finger out the wall of the dyke but smashed a huge hole in its side with penny wise and pound foolish cuts.

Government must immediately reverse the ludicrous cut of 1,700 EA jobs, followed by an independent inquiry into what are the realistic funding levels necessary to ensure the EA has both the capital budget to protect the country from flooding and drought and a big enough revenue budget to maintain, service and run these vital defences.”

End

Contact: Justin Bowden 07710 631 351 or Frank Minal 07713 079930 or GMB press office 07974 251 823 or 07921 289880.

Don't blame the Environment Agency for floods. Blame the spending rules

After the 2012 floods, we put £400 000 on the table for dredging – the maximum the Treasury allowed, says Chris Smith, The Guardian, Sunday 9 February 2014 20.46

Over the past two and a half months, Britain has faced the most extreme series of weather events we have ever experienced. The surge down the east coast of England in early December was the biggest in 60 years, and in some cases even higher than in the tragedy of 1953.

The storms over Christmas and new year were unprecedented, and they have since been followed by the wettest January in the south since records began.

Last week the highest waves ever recorded in Britain were crashing against the south-west coast. Serious flooding has resulted, in many different parts of the country.

My heart goes out to those people whose homes, businesses and land have been flooded during this period. Flooding can be one of the most distressing experiences anyone can ever have.

During the past 10 weeks, about 5,000 houses have been flooded, in many different parts of the country.

At the same time, it's important to realise that some 1.3 million homes – that would otherwise have flooded – have been protected by Environment Agency defences and the dedicated work of EA staff.

There's always more that we can do, of course. We have a forward programme of work, investing in new flood defences, in town and country, all over England.

And the substantial new funding announced this week by the government is really welcome – it will enable us to repair the damage that the winter storms have caused without eating into the money for new schemes to provide better protection for the future.

It's important, though, to realise a fundamental constraint on us. It's not only the overall allocation for flood defence work that limits what we can do. There is also a limit on the amount we can contribute to any individual scheme, determined by a benefit-to-cost rule imposed on us by the Treasury.

Take, for example, the highly visible issue of the dredging of the rivers on the Somerset Levels.

Last year, after the 2012 floods, we recognised the local view that taking silt out of the two main rivers would help to carry water away faster after a flood.

The Environment Agency put £400,000 on the table to help with that work – the maximum amount the Treasury rules allowed us to do. The additional funds from other sources that would be needed didn't come in.

So when politicians start saying it's Environment Agency advice or decisions that are to blame, they need to realise that it's in fact government rules – laid down by successive governments, Labour and Tory – that are at the heart of the problem.

That problem has now, this week, been solved by two things. The first was the announcement of £10m for Somerset, made by the prime minister.

The other, probably even more important, was the statement by the secretary of state, Owen Paterson, that the Somerset Levels are such a unique landscape – reclaimed land largely below sea level, with the Severn estuary at its back – that the normal rules shouldn't apply.

That decision really does free up the chance to find a longer-term solution to the future of the Levels.

It will certainly involve dredging, and the EA will play its full part in that.

But it also has to involve changing land use higher up the river catchments, renewing pumps and stopping the Severn tides backing up the rivers from the estuary.

What really saddens me, though, is seeing the Environment Agency's work and expertise in flood-risk management, internationally respected and locally praised in many parts of the country, being used as a political football for a good media story.

In a lifetime in public life, I've never seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces.

Our staff have worked their hearts out in order to protect as many people as possible in the face of extreme weather.

They'll carry on doing so. But there's no place for playing politics in the serious business of flood protection.

• Lord Smith is chairman of the Environment Agency

 

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