Pay constraint 'unjust, unwise, and unfair', says Environment Agency chief

James Bevan says staff are "experiencing real hardship" as inflation bites, with some using foodbanks
Photo: Train Photos/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The chief executive of the Environment Agency has slammed the “unjust, unwise, and unfair” pay deal on offer for his staff as he said some had even turned to foodbanks to cope with cost-of-living increases.

In a strongly-worded letter to environment secretary George Eustice, Sir James Bevan said Environment Agency employees are facing “experiencing real hardship” and urged him to push for a pay rise over the 3% maximum currently on offer.

Cabinet Office pay remit guidance published in March said civil service bodies could offer pay rises of 2%, topped up by an extra 1% where they can successfully argue the extra bump will help with staff retention, productivity or other priorities.

Bevan compared the offer with pay rises of between 5% and more than 9% announced for teachers, nurses, police officers and other public sector workers two days ago – the same day it was announced most senior officials would get a 2% rise.

“Those workers deserve those rises and more. But so do the staff of the Environment Agency," Bevan's letter, seen by CSW and dated 19 July, said.

“It is unjust because over the last several years in line with government policy, EA employees have taken a series of real terms pay cuts, while working harder and harder. With the cost of living rising rapidly and inflation expected to hit 11%, many of our people are finding it increasingly hard to cope,” he said.

"Many are now experiencing real hardship. Some are using foodbanks."

He added: “EA staff work just as hard and do jobs which are just as vital for the country as those public servants who will now be getting higher pay rises."

He also labelled the pay constraint “unwise” because it is affecting recruitment and retention. The agency’s ability to fulfil its commitments, including food defence, regulating industry and protecting biodiversity, requires “a full workforce with high levels of technical ability and commitment”, he added.

“Because of the growing gap between the salaries the government allows us to pay our employees and private sector salaries, we are now losing many of our critical people and are currently running a 10% vacancy rate across the organisation, with much higher vacancy levels in some of our most critical functions. That is already impacting our ability to deliver,” he wrote.

“For the same reasons, we are now finding it increasingly difficult to recruit, retain and motivate our staff. The Environment Agency runs on their goodwill – for example, to volunteer to turn out 24/7 when needed to tackle a major flood incident. If we lose that goodwill, we will lose the ability to operate.”

Bevan said he has the full support” of the EA board, including chair Emma Howard Boyd, and urged Eustice to share his concerns with the Treasury and Cabinet Office to try and secure the pay rise Environment Agency employees “need and deserve”.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect trade union, said Bevan’s letter gave “an unprecedented window on the impossible situation that the government is putting departments and agencies in”. 

“Many government agencies and departments are already at or beyond capacity, struggling to recruit and having to look at what services they will have to discontinue,” he said.

“This throws down the gauntlet to other civil service leaders to demonstrate that they too are prepared to speak truth to power and stand up for their staff and their organisations which do so much to defend, protect, support and enhance all of our lives.”

CSW has asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for comment.

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