Spending Cuts Impact on the Environment Agency’s Ability to Deliver

The year 2013 ended as it had begun with many homes and businesses across the country experiencing the misery of being flooded out. The heartache and misery caused far outweighs the economic impact.

Flooding will become more commonplace as we move further into the 21st century. Climate change has already had an impact on our weather as warmer air holds more water and therefore the potential for stronger rainfall events has increased. Flooding is caused either by excess rainfall or storm surges, both of which have impacted upon Britain in the last year. Around 1 million properties are at risk of surface and ground water flooding while a further 2.4 million are at risk from river and sea water flooding.

This is at a time when our public services, including those that deal with the impact and consequences of flooding, are more stretched than ever. Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in December of last year was on the same day that Environment Agency (EA) engineers were out in force defending the east coast from the largest tidal surge in 60 years. Osborne’s statement confirmed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) must save £19 million in 2014/15 and £18 million in 2015/16, much of which is expected to be taken from the EA.

Defra’s revenue funding for operations and maintenance is falling to £230 million next year, down by around £10 million on this year and around £50 million since 2010/11. Both Prospect and Unison have expressed their concerns, warning that the severity of the cuts will impact on the ability of the Agency to deliver, especially in situations of emergency. It is predicted that the cuts will have a negative impact on the Agency’s ability to manage incidents, given that front line staff will be effected.

In 2010 the Environment Agency undertook a review of flood prevention schemes which resulted in many being cancelled and as a consequence hundreds of thousands of homes and livelihoods being left unprotected. The flood defence budget has been cut from an average of £664 million in 2009 to an average of £540 million up to 2015. For example the biggest project to lose funding was the £160 million defence scheme along 12 miles of the River Aire, stretching right into the centre of Leeds.

These cuts in spending should be taken in the context of the Foresight Future Flooding report published in 2004 which identified the need for year on year increases in funding of between £10 and £30 million for England and Wales every year until the 2080s, simply to respond to climate change. Whilst climate change modelling has significantly improved in the last decade the impact still remains uncertain.

The EA’s long term investment strategy identified that a steady increase of investment to around £1040 million per year, excluding inflation, was needed to maintain existing and build new flood management assets. This figure excludes the cost of managing the risk of surface water and groundwater flooding so further resources are required for affected homes.

The challenges laid out above can be set against a backdrop of proposals to cut employees at the agency from 11,250 to 9,700 by October 2014, with the expectation that there will be more redundancies in the future as a result of further cuts.

The Agency have also announced that they will be cutting spending on waste crime, which makes no sense whatsoever as it has been demonstrated by the consultants Eunomia that for every £1 the EA spends on waste crime a further £5-6 is raised in landfill tax. This again shows the incomprehensible logic of the coalition where the mantra of cuts actually damages the economy even further. The same can be demonstrated for flood defence where again for every £1 spent by the Agency a further £8 is saved from repairing flood damage.

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