Prospect Deputy General Secretary Leslie Manasseh said: “Pickles claimed the government’s mistake had been to rely on expert advice from the Environment Agency. In a single comment, he wrote off a whole swathe of specialists, whose expertise has served government and the UK well.
“All governments depend on specialists – especially in times of crisis. And staff at all levels in the Environment Agency – including Prospect managers, specialists and professionals – have stepped up to the plate in these challenging and unforeseen conditions.
“Staff are astonished to be scapegoated like this when any failings should be laid fairly and squarely at the doors of the government. Its austerity programme has starved the organisation of vital investment over the years. For example, funding cuts during the life of this government have reduced the number of experienced flood engineers.
“Even with the emergency funding announced last week, less money will be available for flood protection this year than when the government was elected in 2010. Yet the programme of 1,500 job cuts continues unabated.”
Prospect Negotiator Kevin Warden added: “The Environment Agency operates within a strict policy and legal framework that has been, quite properly, established by politicians now seeking to scapegoat our members. The policy of not dredging rivers in the Somerset levels is a case in point. It was made and endorsed by the minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“Pickles should apologise for the government’s failings and let our staff get on with using their specialist expertise to help the public at this time of crisis. Meanwhile the government should focus on how to address years of underfunding and finding ways to be more prepared for such unforeseen crises in the future.”