Government warned to cancel flood specialists job cuts as storms continue to batter UK

More than 1,600 posts are due to go at the Environment Agency by October

Deputy Political Editor

A A A

Ministers faced demands tonight to put on hold plans to make hundreds of flood specialists redundant, in light of the continuing storm destruction across Britain.

As the Government held a meeting of Whitehall’s emergency Cobra committee to assess the damage, it was hit by accusations that George Osborne’s austerity drive would undermine work on shoring up coastlines and riverbanks.

More than 1,600 posts are due to be shed by the Environment Agency by October, including an estimated 550 staff employed on flood protection, despite record numbers of flood warnings last year and fears the number will continue to grow because of climate change.

Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, acknowledged that his department, which oversees the agency, was facing a cash squeeze. But he insisted the axe would not fall on frontline jobs and said spending on flood defences had been boosted by the Government.

However, the Environment Agency’s chief executive, Paul Leinster, warned that the redundancies would affect work pinpointing areas vulnerable to future flooding and unions called for an immediate moratorium on the threatened redundancies.

Leslie Manasseh, the deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “In 2013 there were a record number of flood alerts and warnings, so that work is becoming more important and expensive.

“To say glibly that everybody has got to make cuts is a rather simplistic approach and I can’t imagine that people whose homes have been flooded are going to be comforted by that kind of statement.”

He urged ministers to “stop these cuts in their tracks” and “learn the lessons of the experiences of this winter, which have had such a devastating impact on so many people”.

Matthew Lay, a Unison national officer, said: “Staff in the agency have worked day and night to keep communities safe and prevent flood damage, and work tirelessly to support those devastated by the aftermath.

“The Government can't have it both ways, praising the sterling work of members in the agency but at the same time imposing further damaging cuts.”

The row was fuelled by comments by Mr Leinster in which he warned “flood risk maintenance will be impacted” by the cuts.

He told the environmental journal ENDS: “All of our work on mapping and modelling and new developments in things like flood warning will also have to be resized. And we’re looking at a proportionate reduction in the number of people in flood risk management.”

Speaking after the Cobra meeting, Mr Paterson said: “Like all departments, this department has had to make efficiencies given the dire financial position we inherited when we came to office.

“I had a meeting this morning with the chief executive of the Environment Agency.

“He has assured me he has every intention of protecting front-line services concerned with flooding. His intention is to protect front-line services as he makes his efficiencies.

“This Government is spending more than any previous government on flood defences - 165,000 properties will be protected by 2015.”

But Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, described ministers’ handling of the crisis as “appallingly inept” as they had cut spending on flood defences and allowed building on flood plains.

“These are real people’s lives and, as far as I can see, the Government is sitting on their hands. More than 1,000 homes are already flooded, with worse to come this weekend, and yet I have seen little evidence the Government is acting decisively,” Mr Farage said.

Guy Shrubsole, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “Every £1 invested in protecting us from flooding saves £8 in damages. Cutting flood defence spending is a false economy and David Cameron now needs to intervene.”

 

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...