Environment Agency cuts to see 1,700 jobs disappear

11th November 2013

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The Environment Agency is to make nearly 15% of its staff redundant in 12 months, after having its annual funding from Defra slashed by £33.5 million

Agency staff were told in an email on 10 October that the regulator would be restructuring and cutting its headcount as a result of significant reductions to its revenue streams. “Our core environment and business grant in aid (GiA) revenue funding is likely to reduce by around £21 million and flood control risk management GiA by around £12.5 million from 2013/14 to 2015/16,” confirmed the agency’s chief executive, Paul Leinster. “The changes mean that we will have to reduce staff numbers.”

Initially, employees were told that 1,400 jobs would go over three years. However, on 21 October the agency revealed a further 300 positions were to be cut and that all 1,700 posts would disappear within a year.

Although staff had expected to be affected by the government’s decision to cut Defra’s administrative budget by 9.6% in 2015/16, the speed and the scale of the job cuts have come as a shock.

“We knew that Defra’s budget cuts would hit the agency,” one employee told the environmentalist. “But no one’s said anything until now and it feels like the changes are a fait accompli, rather than a negotiating point.”

In a question and answer session with staff on the changes, Leinster and senior executives at the regulator confirmed that the regional structure of the agency would be changing. Toby Willison, director of the agency’s strategic reviews response programme, said: “There won’t be regional services, and we expect that delivery will be locally or nationally.”

The announcement has left staff in the regions particularly worried, although the agency’s director of operations, David Jordan, offered some reassurance that the job losses would not be primarily aimed at regions. “We will look first at roles, rather than geographies and how different roles are funded as some parts of our business are growing, while funding for others is reducing,” he said. “The forthcoming changes will be felt at all levels.”

With capital funding for flood control increasing as environment and business revenue is cut, finance director Mark McLaughlin told staff that the agency had to respond to a “dramatic change” in the government’s priorities. “The rebalancing [of services] is implicit in the numbers. The government sets its spending priorities,” he said.

However, one employee told the environmentalist that the changes were driven by the desire to cut costs rather protect the environment.

“These cuts reveal an utter lack of vision and an attitude that’s 180 degrees different from the statement of the direction in the natural environment white paper. It’s not being driven by a strategic approach to getting organisations to take responsibility for the environment; it’s about letting everyone regulate themselves to save a load of money.”

The agency wants to increase the work it delivers through partnerships with private and third-sector organisations to cut costs, alongside restructuring top management and potentially outsourcing its HR and finance functions.

“We are looking to find greater efficiencies,” said Leinster. “We know it will take changes to our structures, ways of working and careful business planning to maximise the delivery of environmental outcomes with available funding.”

Despite Leinster’s reassurances, many staff and external bodies, such as IEMA, are worried the regulator will not be able to offer the same level of service in future.

“IEMA has significant concerns over the dismantling of environmental protection capability as a result of these cuts,” said Martin Baxter, IEMA’s executive director of policy. “As a regulator, the agency must focus on poor performing organisations. With fewer resources in future it will inevitably be relying more heavily on firms that have the competence and systems in place to assure their ongoing compliance.”

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