The government should show – both in word and in deed – that it values the people who will have to deliver its 25-year environment plan, says David Tarttelin, president of Prospect’s Environment Agency branch.
Clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife are just a few of the many laudable goals in the government’s 25-year environment plan that was launched in January.
We can always be a bit cynical about what politicians say and write and, as we know, the danger with plans is that they remain just that. So will it be different with this plan? The answer, of course, is that we don’t know… yet.
Some of our colleagues in the Environment Agency contributed to this plan and, indeed, probably wrote various parts of it.
It’s not difficult to see why they did, since it covers things like reducing risks from flooding and coastal erosion, reviewing the approach to water abstraction, cracking down on waste criminals, curbing emissions from combustion plants and reducing pollution and waste.
And that should be good – involving those who will have to deliver the work is surely a fundamental step on that road to delivery.
Most of the people I know joined the Environment Agency because they wanted to make a difference to the environment, and I expect the same is true of Prospect members in Natural England and other parts of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
So how do you now go beyond the involvement stage and get buy-in, that rare commodity that motivates us?
Well, I suggest that we start by recognising that we need the people with the experience and skills to do the task at hand. That means retaining those staff we have and rewarding them to show not only that they are needed, but they are wanted – I hope people can understand the difference.
And yes, that is a request for decent pay rises for our experts and those who support them. But it’s also a request for politicians to state, very loudly, that they value public servants.
I hope no one tries to portray the recent recruitment drive at Defra to cope with Brexit as an example of green credentials – we know why that has taken place. However, we do recognise that we now have an opportunity to take a step back, review where we are and plan what we should do next in the attempt to do it better.
Having the capacity and capability to do that in the Environment Agency and elsewhere in Defra is key. Stopping further reductions in staff who engage with planning matters at the Environment Agency would be a start.
In my view, the 25-year plan has many of those “We will…” statements that can sound less convincing the more times you see them. However, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that it’s better to have a plan than not – and many of the statements make a lot of sense.
The easy part is over and the focus has shifted to delivering the plan. Successful delivery requires professionals whose skills, experience and knowledge are valued: a decent pay rise would be a step in the right direction. If only we could get a David Attenborough documentary to get the public excited about it!