HUNDREDS of flood defence workers’ jobs will be saved as a result of the extra Environment Agency funding unveiled in last week’s Budget, the Floods Minister has announced.
Dan Rogerson told MPs yesterday that the extra £140m announced by Chancellor George Osborne will allow the Environment Agency to “look again” at its proposed redundancy programme to protect the jobs of flood defence staff.
His announcement follows widespread concern over 1,700 Environment Agency jobs which were earmarked to go this year due to swingeing cuts to the agency’s budget from Whitehall.
Around 550 of the threatened jobs were expected to be in flood defence roles.
The issue came to the fore during the floods which struck large parts of Britain over the winter, when Ministers came under pressure to show their austerity measures would not make matters worse in the years to come.
As a result, David Cameron announced an emergency £130m investment in flood defences and maintenance in February. This was followed by a further £140m boost in the Budget on March 19.
Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Rogerson said all ‘flood risk’ staff would now be safe from redundancy.
“The additional £130m of funding announced in February and the £140m announced in the Budget for the repair and maintenance of vital flood and coastal defences will mean there is no reduction in the Environment Agency’s flood and coastal risk management job numbers,” the Liberal Democrat Minister said.
Labour, however, remains concerned that several years of cutbacks to the agency’s budget may leave it unable to carry out vital work in coastal and rural areas.
Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield, said the agency “has been haemorrhaging good staff” since 2010.
And Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins warned of the devastating impact the ongoing cuts are having on staff morale.
“We were flooded badly in Chesterfield in 2007, so my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered so badly this winter,” Mr Perkins said.
“Does (the Government) not think the many people in the Environment Agency who have worked so tirelessly will be feeling pretty disgruntled that after all the work they have done, and at a time when all of us are worried about flooding, they are seeing huge numbers of job cuts?”
Mr Rogerson insisted it was right that the Environment Agency share the burden of the Coalition’s ongoing drive to reduce public spending, but made clear its flood defence work is now being fully protected.
“The agency prioritises flood and coastal defence work,” the Minister said.
“The extra money that we have put in place to support that work means it can look again at how it is managing jobs across the agency.
“Of course, like all other Government departments and agencies, the Environment Agency has to respond to the need to tackle the deficit.
“However, we are putting money in place to ensure our flood and coastal defences are maintained properly.”
Union bosses insist the Government has not gone far enough, and called for the cuts to the agency’s budget to be reversed entirely and the remainder of the threatened jobs to be saved.
Justin Bowden of the GMB said: “The additional funds for repairs will not stop most of the 1,700 Government-driven job cuts that will leave the agency weakened.”