Inside the Environment Agency - staff left "hung out to dry"
The Environment Agency has come under fire in the latest flooding crisis and faced heavy criticism from the Conservative cabinet minister Eric Pickles.
The West Briton asked an Environment Agency worker to give their views from the frontline.
By an Environment Agency worker in Cornwall
A lot has been said about the recent storm events and justifiably the debate will continue long after the flood waters recede.
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This week starts with Government ministers ducking and weaving amid a flurry of blame and finger pointing over the impact of the unprecedented weather conditions across England and in particular the South West.
Whilst the "blame game" takes centre stage and the causes and solutions of recent events continue to be debated (without much in the way of conclusion), one thing remains unquestionable. For over two months the Environment Agency (EA) staff have worked tirelessly with dedication and a strong commitment to protecting over 1.3 million homes and businesses.
With a significantly reduced budget that is tightly controlled and scrutinised by Treasury, the looming threat of redundancies and a funding system that does not allow for flood defence projects to be funded 100% - instead requiring contributions from poverty stricken communities before protection works can be undertaken - the EA staff continue on regardless, protecting lives, homes and businesses.
The storm surge of 1953 killed around 1800 people across Europe. The storm surge of 2013 only seven. As tragic as it is that any lives should be lost at all it was in part, down to the brilliance of EA staff across the country that figure was not greatly inflated.
Now I would like to point out a little unknown fact that remains lost in all the vitriol directed at EA staff over the last few weeks (yes they have been physically and verbally assaulted).
Most of the staff you see tending to an emergency event are volunteers. That's right, volunteers. Every member of staff at the EA takes on a voluntary dual role in times of emergency. Accountants, planners, administrators, waste planners, environmental managers, communications officers and so on all give up their evenings, weekends, Christmas and New Year holidays to monitor river levels, evacuate houses, check on storm damage and issue flood warnings morning, noon and night. Some get paltry overtime some get no overtime at all. At the end of the shift they pick up the pieces of their day job and trundle on.
The EA have very limited and atypical frontline staff. In fact you may argue that they don't have frontline staff at all. The notion presented by ministers that frontline services are to be protected in this round of redundancies was met with a shake of the head.
So when the axe falls in October it will fall on frontline staff and services. That is a guarantee, because every employee at the EA is exactly that, frontline.
So as ministers, the press and public hang the EA and its staff out to dry over the coming months they better have one eye on the rising flood waters and one hand on an emergency plan, as the only thing drying up at the moment is the goodwill of frontline EA staff.