Civil service professionals’ union Prospect has said members who work in nature and environmental roles have reported that lost expertise, low pay and the state of government policy are barriers to ministers’ ambition to make the UK a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.
A survey of 500 Prospect members working at bodies including the Environment Agency, Natural England and devolved organisations in Scotland and Wales found 42% report that expert staffing had been cut back in the past year. Two-thirds of respondents reported that overall staffing levels were too low and that there were vacancies in their teams.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents said changes in job roles over the past year included increased administration; 36% of respondents said some tasks now needed to be assigned to untrained staff. Prospect said the situation amounted to a “crisis” in expert staffing.
Low-pay was also cited as a problem, with roughly 38% of respondents stating that they earn £30,000 or less, despite the skilled nature of their roles, and a further 35% indicating that their earnings were between £30,000 and £40,000.
In addition to personnel pressures, 37% of respondents said “government policy” is the biggest barrier to preserving the natural environment and achieving net zero. For respondents based in Wales, reduced numbers of specialist staff was the biggest barrier. Respondents in Scotland said the lack of secure funding was the biggest issue.
Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said the feedback gave a telling picture of the real state of the government’s commitment to delivering net zero.
“The insights provided by our expert members are invaluable to understanding what is happening on the front line of the fight to tackle the climate crisis,” she said.
“They are telling us that the paring back of expert roles in their teams is leaving them increasingly burnt out.
“Despite the government talking up the potential of green jobs, it is failing to put in place the funding needed to make working in the natural environment the aspirational career that it should be.”
Elsewhere, the survey found civil servants describe a “demoralising” lack of reward for expertise gained over time.
Forty-eight percent of respondents said there was no pay progression in their role, while 17% said progression was based on performance and 9% said progression was based on acquiring new skills.
The full survey results can be read here.