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.”

 

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?