Floods suspend axe over agency jobs

14th February 2014

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Alistair Halcrow

The Environment Agency has postponed entering into consultation on redundancies as staff deal with severe flooding and storms across the country

In a message to all staff, the regulator’s chief executive Paul Leinster yesterday (13 February) confirmed that no decisions would be made on how the agency was going to restructure, while it was continuing to deal with the floods affecting large areas of England and Wales.

After repeated cuts to its budgets since 2009/10, the Environment Agency announced in last autumn that it would be shedding 1,700 jobs – close to 15% of its workforce – by October 2014.

With hundreds of flood warnings and alerts currently in force across the country, agency employees are leading efforts to protect businesses and homes. As a result, the regulator has suspended its restructuring programme until water levels return to normal.

“We are quite rightly prioritising incident response above all other work,” wrote Leinster. “We will not be taking further decisions on work stream proposals or structures whilst we remain in incident mode.

“This means we will not be seeking any further engagement with staff on ways of working during this period and will not be entering into any formal consultation arrangements.”

Leinster’s letter also makes clear that the “change programme” will restart as soon as the agency moves out of incident response mode, and that the voluntary redundancy scheme would remain open.

The decision to only pause the jobs cut process was described as “ludicrous” by the union GMB.

“At the root of the current flooding crisis are successive years of central government cuts that have trimmed maintenance budgets to unsustainable levels,” commented Justin Bowden, GMB national officer for members at the agency.

“The government must immediately reverse the ludicrous cut of 1,700 jobs, followed by an independent inquiry into what are the realistic funding levels necessary to ensure the environment agency 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.”

Leinster’s letter also confirmed that changes to the regional offices would start on 1 April, with teams to begin reporting into executive managers responsible for individual work streams, such as flooding and enforcement, rather than regions.

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