‘Every civil servant will tell you don't do it’: Outgoing Environment Agency chief warns against restructure

Machinery of government changes should only happen if there is a "really good argument" for it, James Bevan says
Environment Agency. Photo: Andrew Harkar/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

17 Mar 2023

The outgoing Environment Agency chief has warned against restructuring government departments and agencies – including his own – saying machinery of government changes are risky, expensive, time-consuming and often not worth it.

His comments, to MPs on the Treasury Committee, come after the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs reportedly decided against a major arm's-length bodies shake-up last month.

Asked about the reports in specialist publication ENDS Report, Environment Agency chief Sir James Bevan said he is not “precious” about the current structure of the organisation but splitting it up would make it less efficient.

Bevan, who also warned that some staff are leaving due to low wages, cautioned against machinery of government change unless there is a "really good argument" for it.

“I’ve been around government long enough to see a whole bunch of machinery of government changes. Every civil servant will tell you not to do it,” he told the committee earlier this week.

“It takes a lot of time, it costs a lot of money, it carries a lot of risk, and often you don’t end up with any better outcomes.

“Rather than pull apart the EA to create two or three new organisations, I and the 12,000 people I lead would much rather be getting on with protecting your constituents and much rather spend any money available on outcomes rather than new IT or email addresses.”

Machinery of government changes should only be made if there is “a really good argument”, he added.

Alan Lovell, who joined the Environment Agency in September as its chair, said he is “open-minded” on ALB reform” but also does not feel the organisation would benefit from being split.

“What I have seen of the work we do on the ground does make me feel that to split out the flood work into a separate organisation would not be right to do,” he said.

“I think that we are working very well with other ALBs and we can do that as effectively as if there were a formal combination.”

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