Hun­dreds of en­vi­ron­ment agency staff redi­rected to work on Brexit

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Page 29

Hun­dreds of staff who pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity and en­force en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions in the UK have been re­de­ployed to work on Brexit.

The raid on staff from the En­vi­ron­ment Agency, which is re­spon­si­ble for en­forc­ing rules on re­cy­cling, air pol­lu­tion and pro­tect­ing the coun­try from flood­ing, and Nat­u­ral Eng­land, which pro­tects habi­tats and species, has been con­demned by MPs.

Mary Creagh, chair of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Au­dit Com­mit­tee, on Thurs­day pub­lished a let­ter from the en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, Michael Gove, which re­veals 400 staff have been moved from these agen­cies to work cen­trally on Brexit.

The staff moves come as the De­part­ment for Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs (Defra) rushes to pre­pare for a nodeal Brexit, which will have a par­tic­u­lar im­pact on dairy and chem­i­cal ex­ports.

Gove’s let­ter says some of the en­force­ment and pro­tec­tion work the staff do will be re­al­lo­cated or paused for now, rais­ing fears that vul­ner­a­ble habi­tats and species are be­ing left un­pro­tected be­cause of the chaos over Brexit.

“Prepa­ra­tions for leav­ing the EU must not get in the way of pro­tect­ing our trea­sured nat­u­ral spa­ces and iconic Bri­tish wildlife,” said Creagh.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing that Defra has raided staff at Nat­u­ral Eng­land, the or­gan­i­sa­tion re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing some of the most highly val­ued wildlife ar­eas in Eng­land, to pre­pare for Brexit.

“Nat­u­ral Eng­land must not be­come a poor re­la­tion to Defra. Min­is­ters must en­sure the valu­able work it does to pro­mote bio­di­ver­sity is given the pri­or­ity it de­serves.”

Gove said in his let­ter that 50 staff have been re­de­ployed from Nat­u­ral Eng­land, 13 of whom worked to pro­tect sites of spe­cial sci­en­tific in­ter­est in the UK.

The other 350 have been taken from the En­vi­ron­ment Agency and other Defra groups.

The Guardian re­vealed re­cently how over­stretched En­vi­ron­ment Agency staff were at­tempt­ing to in­ves­ti­gate wide­spread abuse and cor­rup­tion within the plas­tic re­cy­cling ex­port mar­ket.

The agency has lost a large num­ber of staff be­tween 2010 and 2018. Sources told the Guardian, en­force­ment work on plas­tic re­cy­cling had to be put on hold due to staff short­ages even be­fore the raid by Defra.

Creagh raised con­cerns in Septem­ber over the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Eng­land’s sites of spe­cial sci­en­tific in­ter­est (SSSIs). The agency has re­vealed that over two years the num­ber of SSSIs which are in an un­favourable con­di­tion has in­creased.

The Guardian re­vealed this week that the En­vi­ron­ment Agency was given 24 hours to find 75 staff to move to work on Brexit within Defra.

Defra is re­spon­si­ble for al­most a fifth of the work across govern­ment on Brexit, in­clud­ing farm­ing, fish­eries, the en­vi­ron­ment, and food and chem­i­cal in­dus­tries. The Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice said in Septem­ber the de­part­ment would not be ready for a no-deal Brexit.

The En­vi­ron­ment Agency’s roles in­clude pro­tect­ing the coun­try from floods. Pho­to­graph: Peter Mac­di­armid/Getty Images

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