Prospect report shows England’s natural heritage at risk from funding cuts
Almost a decade of real-term pay cuts, and four consecutive years of funding cuts, coupled with the impact of Brexit, are putting England’s natural heritage at risk. That is the finding of a report by Prospect into Natural England which shows that the agency does not have the resources it needs to continue to adequately fulfil its responsibilities. The report also sheds light on just what those responsibilities are, and the excellent work Natural England workers do on a daily basis.
Over the past year Prospect, the main union for workers in Natural England, has spoken to its members about their experiences at work. What we have found is an agency at crisis point.
Natural England is the body responsible for maintaining and protecting England’s natural environment. It is responsible for: protected sites such as national parks and Sites of Specific Scientific Interest; countryside stewardship, helping farmers and landowners enhance the biodiversity of their lands; planning and development policy; the marine environment; ramblers’ favourites like the England Coast Path, and many more things which make our natural heritage what it is.
Natural England is at risk because its funding has been slashed, its workforce reduced, and because the needs of Brexit are taking over all other priorities in government. Since 2010 Natural England’s core grant has been halved. Over that time the agency has gone from more than 2,500 staff in 2010 to, we estimate, just over 1,500 staff at the financial year end 2019 with the bulk of the reduction in the last year.
Workers in Natural England have been subject to a 1% pay cap for eight years now, and have been blocked from advancing through the pay grades. This is the reality of government austerity and its effect on agency staff – highly qualified workers facing financial hardship, increased workloads, loss of pension accrual, terrible moral and looking to move elsewhere for a better deal. Successive ministers have made things worse by undermining and attacking the independence of the work of agency experts.
Prospect is calling for:
Natural England’s wide and important remit for people and nature to be properly recognised and funded.
It’s autonomy as a non-departmental public body to be meaningfully restored.
The damage caused by the pay cap to be reversed and pay progression, based on skills and competency, to be restored.
To achieve pay parity with the rest of Defra, particularly for pay scale minima and maxima.
To no longer be covered by the civil service pay guidance and be subject to an independent pay review body.
Garry Graham, Prospect deputy general secretary, said, ‘Michael Gove likes to talk about England’s green and pleasant lands but under his leadership of DEFRA, they are being put at risk. Cuts have left Natural England at the point where it’s workers are saying that they don’t have enough people or resources to do the things they need to do.
If we are to be able to regulate our own environment properly after Brexit it is also vital that we cultivate and maintain the skills to do so domestically – we will no longer be able to rely on the EU to do bits of it for us.
It is a government’s responsibility to safeguard the countryside for future generations. But once biodiversity is lost it cannot easily be regained.
Now is the time for the government to act, give Natural England the resources it needs, and give it’s dedicated staff the recognition and the pay that they deserve.”
4 Replies to “Prospect press release – Natural England”
This harks back – again – to the vital need for, and the present government’s refusal to consider, a proper Environment Act with proper funding an teeth, all as recommended in the excellent People’s manifesto for Wildlife.
And – again – the half-hearted effort by the charities who make up Wildlife and Countryside Link to put forward a case to help formulate and now defeat the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, which in no way provides certainty even for a meaningful existence of NE.
Welcome to the real world (of nasty politics), a 1% pay cap, ok not good but many others have suffered cuts, job loses and they didn’t get expenses, use of vehicles, fantastic training opportunities etc. etc.
English Nature were reviewed in 1997, we all stood up for them and they received a £6m funding boost.
NNR portfolio aside. Would we do it again twenty years on or are they better humanely put out of their misery?
We need a new #PeoplesManifestoForWildlife version, not another rehash 😉
Go on, how many dislikes ….
Arguably, NE was already moribund before austerity and Brexit reduced it to today’s hollow-eyed shuffling zombie. I hear similar characterisations made of the other country agencies. Because the infiltration of vested interests now goes right to the top, I think Nimby may have a point when he implies it is beyond saving. I stress that it gives me no pleasure to say that, and I hope that Mark is right when he reports that morale has improved under Marian Spain, and that Tony Juniper may be in the frame for the position of Chair. They have a hell of a job on their hands. Over the last ten-fifteen years NE has become increasingly (and possibly irreversibly) a Facilitation Agency. It is no longer a voice for nature. Sensitive exploitation of natural resources and wildlife conservation ought to be symbiotic, and maybe they will be one day, but it is a fallacy for Sells or NE’s PR team to pretend that they have achieved any such balance. There is a need more than ever for an agency that gives voice to biodiversity, bioabundance, wildlife – whatever you want to call it, and gives it that voice for its own sake. There is an equal need for a Government self-confident and forward thinking enough to allow itself to be held to account . We have neither. As a consequence of Defra’s clammy hand clamped over its mouth, and its fingers stealing its last few coppers from its pocket, NE as of today is not that agency. Unlike Nimby, I do sympathise for the plight of individual employees (at least the least tainted of those such as the few remaining genuine experts, rather than the career appeasers, HR managers and PR gurus). I feel for those people acutely. Many have given their whole professional life to what they thought was the cause of conservation, only to have their legacy belittled or even eclipsed by what their employer has become. I hope Juniper gets the top job, but it will be just as important that he gets the freedom, the tools and the resources to pull NE out of its nosedive, and in a Brexit climate that may be a hope too far.
Just to clarify, I do have some sympathy for some individuals within NE. I simply pointed out that they are in no worse state than many other people. There are precious few around here who genuinely work with other stakeholders. Like Dominic (I think) I have no time for career politicians/managers in the organisation. They do well in the scheme of things, science and conservationists have been pensioned off or encouraged to leave:(
Each shuffle there are reports of improved morale, but then reality returns.
Ever an agnostic I do actually hope that the new brooms do deliver worthwhile results, but we’ve been here before …. a poisoned chalice? Looking at the Govt. offer, what chance of any success?
But, here’s to TJ pulling a rabbit out of the metaphoric hat ….
Like the new name ‘Facilitation Agency’ – now I would give them an excellent rating for delivering …. but sadly it has been for developers rather than people or wildlife.
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