‘I’ve only been here three months, but I’m hugely impressed’: New Environment Agency chair on filling big shoes, extreme weather and a worrying skills gap

Alan Lovell, who began role as chair of the agency in September, sets out his aims for the year ahead
Alan Lovell. Photo: Defra

By Civil Service World

29 Dec 2022

 

What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?   

My personal highlight was becoming chair of the Environment Agency. My appointment was announced on the hottest day on record and then I started with England in drought. The previous chair, Emma Howard Boyd, left big shoes to fill, with her work on climate change having made a huge impact. However, I am delighted to be here – there’s an opportunity to make a difference every day. The best thing is meeting EA staff around the country building flood schemes, working with nature, supporting businesses and holding criminals to account. I’ve only been here about three months, but I’m hugely impressed.  

What was your most difficult decision in 2022?   

These are tough times and we know that people around the country are struggling with the cost of living. At the same time for many of our roles the entire UK workforce is facing a skills gap – and this is also true in our contractors’ supply chains. These problems aren’t going away and we need to look at what more we can do to retain and recruit talent as we go into 2023. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how do you plan to meet that challenge as an organisation?   

Water and climate change. We are expecting floods in February in some places. We are ready to respond, with over 250 mobile pumps and 5,000 trained staff across the country. It may seem strange but at the same time, drought remains a concern. Recent rainfall has improved water resources in many places, however, long term forecast remains drier than average through the winter. We are working with the National Drought Group, which includes water companies and others, to prepare for next year. We also have a huge task on waste crime and I have had positive conversations with ministers about how we could do more next year.   

“We need to look at what more we can do to retain and recruit talent as we go into 2023”

And personally, as a leader?   

The first is recruiting a new chief executive for when the current chief exec finishes his term next March. The EA recently completed the government’s six-year capital programme for flood protection on time and on budget; I want to build on that success with the new £5.2 billion flood programme. We have a big job working to bring environmental criminals to justice, and I want to get the organisation more resources and powers. The government’s recent announcement that money from fines handed out to water companies will be re-invested in schemes that benefit the natural environment is great.    

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?    

You are absolutely right it’s not only Santa! The Environment Agency is often working at Christmas as it responds to flooding to keep people safe. I hope they are not too busy this year. Anyone can check flood risk for free on gov.uk. 

 

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