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.”

 

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss