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« Public losses | Main | Nature and the Sunday Sport »

The bureaucracy's media defenders

The news this morning is that the Environment Agency is going to cut 1500 jobs in a bid to cut costs. In response. the mainstream media are beating their breasts and wailing about impending disaster. But there are flood warnings in force! Storm warnings! It's as if the whole metropolitan media elite are leaping to the defence of the public sector workers.

This news does, however, give me an opportunity to link to Inside the Environment Agency, a blog set up by agency insiders to expose the corruption, inefficiency and graft that goes on inside the agency. It's an amazing read and I thoroughly recommend it.

They recently featured a post comparing the agency to its counterparts in other western European countries. I've reproduced the critical table here.

Environment agency

Area covered (km2)


Employed Staff/'000 km2 Capita-staff





England 130,395 53 11,400 87 4,649 £1200
Germany 357,021 81 1,400 4 57,857 £84
France 674,843 65 820 1 79,268 £540
Sweden 449,964 9.5 530 1 17,924 £33
Austria 83,855 8.5 477 6 17,819 £36
Denmark 43,094 5.6 450 10 12,444 £103

While I can accept that there might be different responsibilities, the differences are startling. The possibility that the agency is grossly overstaffed is therefore real and the failure of the mainstream media to consider the possibility makes them look very foolish.

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Reader Comments (93)

Who'd have guessed that the definitive word at the BBC would be

But the BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin said MPs have warned that flooding budgets do not match the risk to communities, especially as climate change was expected to bring more extreme weather.

Where's the evidence Mr Harrabin?

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

But, but,but.... where are all the environmental journalists going to go to for their pre-retirement career with a gilt edged pension scheme!!!!

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

I don't know about the other countries, but the Environment Agency has many more responsibilities than the Umweltbundesamt. The latter is a Federal agency that mainly has a policy function and coordinates the operational functions of the State agencies. Besides, flood control is not part of Umwelt; it is part of Environment.

This comparison does not make any sense.

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Richard Tol beat me to it :-)

In Germany environmental issues are devolved to the states, each of which has a large Umweltministerium that performs all the functions of the EvA and more ( forestry, hunting, water protection etc ). The Bundesumweltministerium, as run by that fat bald bloke, is chiefly concerned with trying to prevent Germany from going bankrupt and stopping the lights going out as a result their insane energy policies

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett


Yes, I alluded to the possibility of different responsibilities. But the MSM are not even considering the possibility that the EA is overstaffed.

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

That blog on EA wastefulness is an interesting development.
The blog as an instant samizdat to take on a decadent establishment.
What are the chances of something like it from inside the Met Office? Perhaps run by weather forecasters pissed off by the incompetence, and large budgets, of their climate brethren as they watch a once enviable reputation wither on the vine.

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:40 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

A friend of mine went to an EA office to sell pH meters to a field supervisor for his field team. The meeting was held in a newly refurbished meeting room with new, high quality furnishings. The curtains alone would have cost thousands; high tech projectors etc etc. When the guy asked how many meters would be bought (assuming one per field operative) it turned out that their instrument budget barely allowed for one to be shared around the team of six. The pH meters were less than £300 each.

Apparently the instruments were paid for from a discretionary budget, but the standard of room fitting out was laid down in the regs and had to be to that quality.

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

What an excellent site, demonstrating the potential power of the internet. It’s chock full of the kind of evidence that an official enquiry would take ten years to gather, and then sweep under the carpet.

Let’s hope that this thread doesn’t turn into the usual “public sector bad, private enterprise good” mantra. It’s more complicated than that. Consider this contribution:

John Green "Some of the problems with the EA have their roots with the National Rivers Authority. At privatisation of the industry the water companies did a dirty deal and hived off most of the worst managers to the NRA. There many sat until they were over promoted when the NRA became the Environment Agency. Most were out of depth and resorted to bullying of staff because they knew no other way to manage. This all became an accepted part of the overall culture as the bullies recruited even more bullies in the image of themselves. Over the years that followed many first class EA employees were lost as they resigned bruised and battered from the mental beatings they received."

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:46 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Also don't forget that of the countries listed the UK has a longer coastline than all but Sweden and a much larger, more densely concentrated population. That isn't to say there isn't money being wasted (I would be surprised by any organisation where cost efficiency was anywhere near 100%) but the costs involved in managing the UK coastline are bound to be more.

It would be interesting to also compare countries such as Holland and Belgium.

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete

I heard a presenter on Radio 4 this morning say that the floods in the West Country were the worst they've seen for FIVE YEARS What ever shall we do? The end of the world is undoubtedly at hand and the British unfortunately no longer have a stiff upper lip.

Jan 3, 2014 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I would be interested to understand exactly what function all those staff carry out only because I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority if them were desk bound admin and or management staff where the only time they ever got out doors was at knocking off time.

This does however point out a glaring problem! In a country of some 53mil people around SIX MILLION (according to the BBC) of that population are civil servants! This IS a problem because each and everyone of these jobs sucks money out of the economy instead of creating real wealth (ie you have to tax the fewer and fewer people in real jobs to keep these non-jobs going!). This is a problem Greece faces where around 50% of its economy is the Government!



Jan 3, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

You ask what these staff do, Mailman - well, here's an example.

Once upon a time, when we farmers did a bit of tree lopping or hedge trimming, we'd have a fire to to tidy up the bits of wood that we'd cut off. A great winter job, and a fine excuse to sit round the heat and break open the Thermos flask.

You now carry out such activities with great trepidation. Are we allowed to? Have we got official approval?

"Official approval?" you ask.

Why, yes. See here :

Before we can carry out the simplest, age old-task of clearing up after a bit of hedge work, we must apply for an excemption from the EA. And we must have it ready for inspection in case some spotty tw*t - armed with a clipboard, an Environment Agency-embroidered fleece and a 2.2 in Environmental and Political Studies from the University of South East Wolverhampton - drives into view in his brand new Environment Agency-liveried doublecab pick-up, flashes an official looking ID and demands to know what we're doing. God help us if we haven't got Excemption D7.

That's why they need 11,000 staff.

There was a time, of course, when English Law was all about listing what you couldn't do. Sad that we now live under lists of what we can.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

@Richard Tol ..yep
I also heard Environment Agency staff is large due overseeing nuclear decommissioning being in house .. Anyone know ?
- anyone can reduce headcount just by contracting most stuff out, but I would have expected this to have already been done in the UK

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

There is a separate Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The Environment Agency's website is hopeless if you want to know who does what where; and even how current and projected staffing compares to past staffing.

Flood control, however, makes up about half of the total budget; and presumably about half of the staff. It not clear to me how many of those push paper and how many get their hands dirty.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Out in bandit country where I live, traditional countryside mangement activities go on in the old way, regardless of the EA rules and regulations. For example, the river near me is developing an island in the middle and the diverted water is eroding the abutments of a bridge. The Highways Authority workmen and tree-fellers from the local distribution company (traditional older guys who just get on with the job without worrying too much about the paperwork filled in by some young inexperienced form-filler with a degree in form-filling frrom the University of Administrative Affairs) said that the best thing the landowners responsible should do would be just to excavate and remove the island without telling anyone. If they filled in all the paperwork and waited whilst EA staff came and inspected it and gave a permit, the bridge might have been washed away. It is this inability to get on and do the normal and sensible things that leads to all the flooding that occurs as rivers silt up and debris builds up. We live in an age of over-regulation by people with no knowledge of the real world. It's these people who allow development on flood plains, who prevent sensible river management and who and then wonder why we get flooding.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:37 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Don't know what happens where you live Richard Tol but where I live in Scotland most of the flood work and many other functions you would consider their areas of responsibility have been loaded on to the Local Authorities.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

It’s true that you can’t compare departments in countries but you just know that there’s something going wrong. Some of those in the EA are probably specifically employed to stop flood reduction tasks being done. eg the locals in Cockermouth wanted the river to be dredged but they were stopped because it was felt it would disrupt salmon spawning. Organisations like this probably need pruning regularly, like hedges that always have aspirations to be trees.

The following is stereotypical humour (so should not be taken seriously) and the names have been changed to protect the chronically baffled.

In Country X they have someone to set the job; someone to do the job; and someone to check the job was done perfectly.

In Country Y they have someone to set the job; someone to do the job; and both are constitutionally entitled to shrug when asked why the job hasn’t been done.

In Country Z they have someone to set the job; someone to do the job; someone to check the job was done at all; someone to work out why the job isn’t being done and how the first person might encourage the second in their work; and someone to counsel everyone on feelings of un-achievement and harassment from each other and the public who are getting sick of the job remaining unfinished.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

John B. Where I live, most of the responsibilities of the Local Authorities have been loaded onto the landowners (eg hedge management at the sides of roads) or they don't get done regularly or at all unless done by landowners (eg unblocking drains and culverts).

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

How much has the Environment Agency paid to the CAGW community over the last 20 years (directly and indirectly)?

Perhaps iff that money had been used to maintain better river defences (or other emergency services) we might not be in such a bad position today!

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

@John B
The Environment Agency is responsible for England and Wales. I live in Sussex.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

This is the kind of unhelpful ranting I meant at 10.46AM.


of some 53mil people around SIX MILLION (according to the BBC) of that population are civil servants! This IS a problem because each and everyone of these jobs sucks money out of the economy instead of creating real wealth (ie you have to tax the fewer and fewer people in real jobs to keep these non-jobs going!)
If you really think soldiers, nurses, teachers and policemen are doing “non-jobs” please indicate who should be doing them. Security firms? Private tutors? Faith healers?

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:52 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

¨anyone can reduce headcount just by contracting most stuff out, but I would have expected this to have already been done in the UK¨

You jest!!
They do contract out, while also having the staff that could do the job!
Not only do they contract out, they also pay the contractors at DAY WORK rates.
For instance, a job renovating an automatic flood control sluice (two gates) costs over 300K and takes 6 months.
Another, coming soon to a river near me, has the EA heading the renovation and upgrading of a slalom course at a formidable cost of well over 150K, which has to be ready by April, the start of the slalom season there....
These are the people who also renovated landing stages for river craft, taking over 6 months, and surrounded them with railings that bolted together (Kee fittings), not surprisingly (to me) they got rapidly nicked.
It takes three EA guys, in two EA liveried Mitsubishi 4WD, two days to erect a sign with a long list of safety requirements that everyone ignores anyway.

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Of course, iirc, the EA as presently constituted was set up in its vast form as a sop to that wonderful Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who did so very many good things for the people of this country. [/s]

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

In the past, and I'll try to keep this simple, storm water systems were designed for a 1in 100 storm.
Buildings in areas in flood plians would be subject to periodic flooding because they were in a flood plain.
To mitigate flooding engineers developed systems, such as attenuation and storage, which delays and or limits flows in to watercourses.
Storage systems require excavating large volumes of earth and creating underground tanks.
Now for the sting in the tail. All engineers are now oblidged by the EA to increase storage by 20% over and above the 1in 100 storm this is because of future climate change.
Thus the outcome ,which will be obvious to BH readers, is that more excavations and more materials are used which add costs to projects just to suit some nauseating eco fascist agenda.
Regarding the additional CO2 emissions required, well who cares because for the cause it's worth it :-)

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

"If you really think soldiers, nurses, teachers and policemen are doing “non-jobs” please indicate who should be doing them. Security firms? Private tutors? Faith healers?" Geoff Chambers.

The problem is not that we have those people it's that many of them are engaged in time wasting work. It's not their fault. The UK has a terrible habit of not only doing much of what the EU demands but it gold plates extra rules on top. In no small part it is a result of the compensation culture of the US meeting the nannying state of Europe and having the guilt culture of the UK liberally sprinkled on top. In the end 'real' work doesn't get done. Elderly people die of dehydration in A&E because nobody will authorise a drink. Classes have to get smaller and smaller or have classroom assistants because we have lost every way to punish kids and one person can no longer cope with 30 of the little monsters. Every year we invent more work, which necessitates more people and yet things do not get better. The governments shouldn't be cutting people without first cutting the work.The media won't let them do that either.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Why is it that as soon as you highlight the bloat of the public service someone automagically chimes in with a rant like yours?

If we actually had 6 million police, doctors, nurses, teachers etc do you really reckon this country would be any better off?

For those who actually contain the ability to think for themselves it's OBVIOUS we have an issue with the bloat of the public service through the creation of more and more non-jobs such as climate change officers and any number of management job in the NHS, for example! More over each and every single one of these non-jobs has the side effect of diverting money out if your pocket and away from the areas that actually need them amongst other things.

Additionally when you have pilgrims working in the NHS, schools and pretty much each and every public sector full time on union activities instead of nursing/teaching you cannot sit there pontificating to me about cutting essential services! It's disingenuous AND a tactic of the BBC to divert attention away from a problem!

Does the EA really need 11000 staff? Not likely as I would bet your left testicle that the vast majority of these jobs are merely to reinforce their own bureaucracy and self importance! It's hugely ungainly and a complete waste of tax payers money!


Jan 3, 2014 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

TinyCO2: Well said.

To find out what the EA actually does, google them and then go to “images”. 90% of hits are logos, covers of reports etc, but there’s a couple of pictures of people faffing about in rivers, a couple of pictures of their smart new Land Rovers and Ford transits, and a dormouse from Guardian Green Jobs. A protected species known for its protracted sleeping - what better mascot?

Mailman: And I agree entirely with your second rant. But bloated bureaucracies are not a left/right or public/private issue. Bureaucracy is an endemic problem in our societies.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:25 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

...and what TinyCO2 said! :)



Jan 3, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

For the record Mr Tol, the Environment Agency Wales does no longer exist and the body before that was devolved to Cardiff. The current body is Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru / Natural Resources Wales which includes the old rural affairs( agriculture), Environment and Forestry under one payroll. Seems quite logical to me.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterTrefor Jones

About 10years ago I contacted the Environment Agency about flooding in Horncastle (Lincs.), and the frequency of dredging the River Bain. They replied that their research showed that dredging was not cost effective. To say that I was surprised is an understatement.
Currently the Bain is weed choked and if it was not for local farmers clearing bits here and there Horncastle would be flooded at every storm.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

I was watching UK TV yesterday and the BBC were at the enviro agency. The agency was doing weather forecasting. What the .... is the UK met there for. Every local news reporter finds a different member of the enviro agency. Then, try counting the UK agencies involved in protecting the UK heritage. The liberal govermnet in the UK were supposed to be reducing these agencies, instead they have bred like rabbits.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

If you really think soldiers, nurses, teachers and policemen are doing “non-jobs” please indicate who should be doing them. Security firms? Private tutors? Faith healers?

Jan 3, 2014 at 11:52 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff, these jobs exist in the private secteur because people are willing to pay for them. Government jobs exist because we need some of them and the civil service office managers need a loy of them.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Here's my EA story. Where we used to live in Frome (Somerset), the river Frome ran round a 90 degree bend at the bottom of the road. When high, it started to wash away the bottom of the bank. Eventually, the EA came along and did some support work along the bottom of the bank. Oddly, they also chopped down some trees, which I would have thought would further destabilise the bank.

Anyway, it was clear to me that the work done was really not up to the job.

Two years later they came back and did it properly. i got chatting to the foreman, and said that I thought at the time that the previous job would not do. He said - yes, and we told the EA it wouldn't, they ignored us and told us to do it as specc'ed.

Rough cost, I asked him - hundred thousand he replied.

That was a hundred thousand pounds, just thrown away.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Defra, the emergency services [in times of crises], water companies and councils could and should shoulder the responsibilities of river, lacustrine and coastal water management - they do so already. Why does Britain, in the form of the EA have to add another layer of bureaucracy? But then it is no real mystery, Johnny Prescott, gold-plating and the EU is the reason.

The Environment agency is over staffed by 11,400, if they all went, resigned yesterday, the nation would not have noticed.

The EA is a quango, stuffed full of green advocates who [mainly] are also common purpose apparatchiks who know lots about sending out missives jammed with eco-argot and which are total drivel on posh letter heads but nowt else.

Furthermore and most importantly, the EA it is an EU directed agency and designed solely to facilitate and enable EU policy, ie to protect the environment and conservation stymie any attempt at effective and useful river management, in that, they do not understand even the basics of water basin hydrology nor do they desire to - creepy crawlies is what they are and are about.

A budget of £1 billion/ year mainly goes on pensions and salaries for Greenpeace in government: jobs for the boys and girls on the green crusade.

Jan 3, 2014 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I was an unpaid member of the Flood defence committee of the Environment agency here in the South West for some 10 years, after my appointment by Defra.

The idea that there are too many EA people 'on the ground' is ludicrous. There are numerous dedicated people doing often dangerous and dirty jobs at very antisocial hours in, by definition, often appalling conditions.

That is not to say that the EA is properly balanced-it has too many managers with rather vague jobs, the most vague of all being the rather ludicrous Chairman Chris Smith a political appointee by the Labour Party .

When the Tory party came to power they cut the EA budget by many millions which had a DIRECT impact on the creation of new flood defence schemes and the proper maintenance of existing ones.

A new broom at the top that was neither political, fervently green and actually knew something about the industry would clear out the undoubted clutter. This would leave the EA with the budgets to carry out their mainstream jobs of which a prime one is the building and maintenance of flood defences.

They could of course also get back to basics and cut the pc nonsense which prevents their proper maintenance of rivers by dredging in case they disturb wildlife at the expense of the human population


Jan 3, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered Commentertonyb

I wonder if there is any equivalent blog for SEPA? I doubt it - the Scottish establishment is much "better" about keeping the gravy train going in general.

There seems to be a general public perception that the EA have some role in flood incidents, but I'm not clear what this is or what they have resources to actually do. Many of the flooding scenes in the media show a complete lack of effective action - it's no use putting up sandbags if you have no means of pumping out water which does get in, and an electric submersible pump which runs off a 13 amp plug will not do the job, even supposing the electricity stays on.
The fire brigade seems to be the emergency service of choice, and they will turn up with fire engines which have high pressure low volume pumps quite unsuitable for the task and make a lot of noise and fuss for little result.
What is needed in many cases is the high volume diesel pumps which exist in hire depots around the country but there doesn't seem to be a procedure in place for authorising their hire and deployment.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW


I dont think anyone would bedgrudge the very real and very good work that a few of the EA employees do. Its just their good work is hidden below layers of pointless bureaucracy thats sole purpose seems to be to reinforce their own sense of self importance. Sadly I fear this will be true of EVERY Government department!



Jan 3, 2014 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman


The origin of the EA was the merger of NRA, HMIP and (memory's a bit hazy) I think something else. The NRA, in turn, was created by demerging certain responsibilites from the water authorities - memory's a bit hazy again, but I think this was done in the run-up to privatisation of the water authorities. Whatever the arguments about privatisation of the water authorities, is does, I think, make more sense for things like flood defence to be administered from the public sector than private. Whether there's a more efficient way of doing these things than the EA as currently constituted is, again, another question. And yes, the EA is to a large extent a branch office of the EU, as the latter is the source of most environmental legislation these days.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

The linked blog makes it very clear that a lot of them are not dedicated at all, do nothing useful and could be cut from the payroll without any effect on the agency's work. Unfortunately the standard tactic of cutting the budget and demanding a reduction in numbers will not achieve this, it is the ones dedicated to skiving and office politics who keep their jobs in this scenario, the ones who actually do the work are much easier to get rid of.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

I stand corrected.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

The Environment Agency has 350 + PR staff

It regularly employs outsourcing and subcontractors - mostly it has to be said to address screw-ups (which abound) or woeful shortcomings in internal competences. There are a number of large "consultancy" outfits that garner most of their revenue from the EA and shamelessly sock puppet the EA' management's usually almost entirely self serving position.

The bully culture is endemic and not confined to staff - they try it on with the public too and they're not averse to direct threats. The default position in any interaction with the public for most EA officials is obstruction - to the point where just recently we had an obstruction an lie situation that the front line official stuck with - until we managed to get senior managers to rein in the official concerned.

I think that the table in the post can only be really an indicator that something is out of kilter. Yes - they do cover a considerable range of responsibilities - but the present levels of staffing are the result of nearly 20 years of complete and utter ack of oversight and ever expanding budgets.

More worrying to my mind and the reason for my 4 year journey through the organisation is the contempt for statute and the law in general as it applies to them. I have witnessed fraud , lies, threats, obstruction, misrepresentation, technical incompetence, contempt of court orders, deliberate delay band no small amount of hubris along the way. All that in support of achieving their arbitrarily chosen outcome in the face of evidence.

The EA is a sprawling monster with no oversight and a rapacious appetite for funds and they are not averse to deploying any means fair or foul to get their way. They consistently act outside their statutory powers, inveigle themselves into areas where they have no mandate, play very fast and loose with "the science" and just grow.....

It is an Augean Stables which one has to assume is mimicked across all the NDPBs like The Highways Agency, DVLA, VOSA .... you know the rest.

These are not soldiers, firemen, nurses etcetera - these are bureaucrats doing bureaucracy and by and large simply pleasing themselves and squashing / steamrollering anybody who gets in their way - if they can....

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:30 PM | Registered Commentertomo

The problem is how do you deal with a public sector organisation which has gone thoroughly bad as appears to be the case here?
A failed private sector organisation in theory goes bust and is replaced by a hopefully more efficient and less dysfunctional one, the mechanism for dealing with a dysfunctional public sector org. is less clear. Reorganisation is the only possible answer, but in the EA case this seems to have been the means of its formation but the problems have been retained and worsened in the process.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

From the French perspective river management and road drainage appears to be the responsibility of each department - at least it is department workers that do the work here in my department.

The river in my valley is inspected each year and any work needed to keep the water free flowing is undertaken. The irrigation water storage is emptied each year and sand and gravel recovered for use of the building industry.

Roadside ditches are cleaned out twice a year on the national and local roads - the toll roads are maintained more frequently by the companies that run them.

All of the above used to happen in the UK when I was a boy 70 odd years ago. Now it appears that the green agenda has the upper hand and 'looking pretty' takes precedence over utility with disastrous consequences.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

I used to work for a private sector consultancy that did a lot of work on behalf of the EA in the area of flood management, and we also hired quite a lot of former EA employees. All ex EA employees I spoke to basically had very little in the way of positivity to speak of the EA saying they treated staff badly and were poor payers (basically if you're not senior management you're not earning very much). Of course said people could have had an axe to grind considering they had left, but from my sample, the picture they painted was not a rosy one.

As has been alluded to in Charlie Flindt's post above, much of the what the EA does is administrative work. They have armies of people overseeing regulations in waste management (and other environmental areas such as pollution permits for certain large facilities. They have a number of areas of responsibility and I'm sure they're listed on their website), issuing permits in every region of England, basically checking which waste you're handling, storing, transporting, treating, disposing etc and whether you can get an exemption from permitting requirements to carry out one of these activities.

Their biggest budget is for flood management issues where there are now layers upon layers of work that is required before you see any actual physical work get done at the river. Now there has to be a strategic level plan for catchments which takes months and months to write, then a local specific river project solution (requiring detailed hydrological and hydraulic modelling and cost benefit appraisals of flood defence options), which takes many more months, all of which have to take account of the threat of climate change (which of course has to assume that the IPCC is correct as they have no defendable basis to do otherwise because of the way bureaucracy works).

Is the EA overstaffed? I don't know. Quite possibly, and I'm sure with better IT (help us all now, with public sector IT projects) many of the admin roles could be removed in time. Obviously we need the EA as somebody has to coordinate river management in England and presumably oversee that people handling waste or emitting emissions into the environment to make sure it is done to the current standard and with a duty of care. But it could be scaled back so that we as a society accept that we're prepared to live with a greater risk from environmental pollution, say by less frequent checking of facilities, less onerous regulations/form filling/checking by EA staff. And I think in time that is where we'll be heading as a society as we get poorer.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterABC

ABC, you are asking the question "is the EA overstaffed" from the point of view of "could they be made more efficient", to which the answer is probably yes.

However, there is a simpler issue: based on the referenced blog the EA is overstaffed on the basis that they achieve their current workload while a substantial number of their staff don't do anything productive and are therefore dispensible.

Jan 3, 2014 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

If you really think soldiers, nurses, teachers and policemen are doing “non-jobs” please indicate who should be doing them. Security firms? Private tutors? Faith healers?
Jan 3, 2014 at 11:52 AM | geoffchambers

Soldiers + nurses + teachers + policemen = how many? 300k tops? What about the other 95%? Presumably you agree that they are useless, since you neglected to defend them.

Here's a challenge: make a list of public sector 'worthies' that includes 50%

Jan 3, 2014 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

TinyCO2 (Jan 3, 2014 at 11:43 AM): you missed out one country – in Country U, they have someone to set the job; someone to assess the risk in the job; someone to check the qualifications of the assessor of risks; someone to pacify the protestors against the job being done; someone to explain to the media what is being done about the job; someone report to the government about the job; someone to advise on the ability of anyone who might be involved in the job; someone to advise as to whether or not the job should be done; someone to consult with on the job; someone to investigate the results of the job not being done; someone to explain to the media why the job has not been done; someone to counsel everyone involved with the job; someone to control the accountants involved in the job; and, someone to establish an inquiry into the failings of the job.

Jan 3, 2014 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Marginally off-topic - but I watched the Sky News coverage this morning with its anchorman in Ilfracombe - trying desperately to induce some panic in the local populace. They weren't particularly fazed by the sea crashing on the sea wall - and knowing the area as I do, and its habit of being a bit breezy - I'm not surprised...

Separately. last night they were interviewing some worthy on the late news and OF COURSE brought up the subject of how much this was down to 'climate change'.. The chap being interviewed stated categorically that sea levels were rising 3mm a year.. (Really..? Al Gore had better watch out in his seaside palace....)

Jan 3, 2014 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

TinyCo2, John Marshall, TonyB:

To add to your tales of dredging woes, allow me this tale.

There is a small river that forms the boundary at the end of my garden and it feeds the Avon flowing on to Stratford Upon Avon. My lower garden is a flood plain, 20 feet below my house. Fair enough. But after the 1998 and 2007 floods, when the river rose 18 feet (!) the EA said they would do something about it and were granted nearly 500k GBP for the work.

I asked the project manager if he intended to dredge the river. 'No', says he, 'it's not a viable solution, we're going to raise the banks instead'.(!) So, they built up a flood berm/bund on the opposite bank to me so they could keep flood-water away from the main village. That has the effect of making my house more vulnerable, so they built a few flood walls on my side, but not for my house.

The net effect was that the berm was raised 6" - but with all the traffic of bulldozers etc, plus settlement, it reverted to its previous level. So, for half a million quid, half-a-dozen householders near me got spanking new flood walls, patios and gardens, courtesy of the tax-payer. My garden flooded over Christmas and we're watching closely to see if the river will rise any more. A fifteen foot deep lake on your land is quite startling!

Happy New Year!

Jan 3, 2014 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield


I haven't read the blog yet but I will do so shortly. If as you say, there are people simply doing nothing productive then clearly this is unacceptable. But then this does not surprise me. A few years ago a document was doing the rounds at my company written by the EA which basically a guide to EA staff on how to write reports - including whole chapters on what words they should and should not be using. It was staggering that someone had spent the time to write such a report. Another story which came to my attention (I can't verify whether this is actually true or not) but apparently one staff member who was responsible for collecting data on river water quality got fed up actually going to the river and doing the work so turned to simply making the data up. He got caught and was sacked. But how much EA data can be believed if such activities are going on?!

Speaking of non-productive work in quangos. The job I went to after I left my partially EA focussed private sector job was a quango in a different area. There I discovered mammoth unproductive work going on, hours of pointless meetings, all coupled with very healthy salaries and benefit packages (28 days annual leave, final salary pensions). Senior management have been forced into making changes (lots of redundancies, pensions changed, pay restrictions) but the sheer waste and unproductiveness prompted me to leave. I really couldn't stand it.

Jan 3, 2014 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterABC

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