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GMB Lock Keeper Hero On Thames

Monday, February 17, 2014

Resident Lock Keeper Whose Role Is To Go In EA Cuts Rescues Two In Two Separate Incidents On Swollen Thames At Abingdon

Consultation on redundancies on hold but they will press on with redundancies after the floods have receded with a meeting scheduled for Thursday 20th Feb discuss how this delay impacts on the timetable for job losses says GMB.

Richard Hawkins, the resident Lock & Weir Keeper at Abingdon employed by the Environment Agency (EA), raced into action at 7.30am on Saturday morning 15th February to rescue a boater who had fallen into the Thames. Richard then steered the 57' narrow boat, which had come adrift from its mooring by the ferocity of the current, across the river, where he was able to secure the vessel safely. Only six days earlier Richard had rescued a young boy who had slipped into the flood waters and was in danger of being swept into the weir.    

The Environment Agency is seeking to end residential lock keeping on the Thames. Currently for residential lock and weir keepers living on the river the response time to localised incidents is around 15 minutes. In contrast an EA feasibility study proposes a target of 2 hours.

Frank Minal, GMB regional officer, said "Richard's actions vindicate the GMB view that resident lock keepers are essential to maintain safety on the Thames. There is a long history of resident lock keepers responding in minutes day and night to these sorts of incidents. This quick response undoubtedly saving lives. These incidents make a mockery of managers at Environment Agency claiming that abolishing resident keepers will not affect safety on the river.

Richard's job as resident keeper at Abingdon Lock will disappear if the Environment Agency is allowed to implement plans to abolish resident lock keepers and replace them with contractors as part of the 10% cut backs. This will result in the response time to incidents increasing from minutes to an EA target of two hours.

Last week the EA put consultation on redundancies on hold. However they will press on with redundancies after the floods have receded. There is a meeting with unions scheduled for Thursday 20th Feb discuss how this delay impacts on the timetable for job losses. This is ludicrous. Have government learned nothing from the current floods.

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.  

Government must immediately reverse the ludicrous cut of 1,700 EA jobs. This should be 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."


Contact Justin Bowden 07710 631351 or Frank Minal 07713 079930 or GMB press office 07974 251 823 or 07921 289880.

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