A senior Defra adviser has called for the Environment Agency (EA) to be broken up, with flood defence work split off completely.
Dieter Helm, reappointed as Natural Capital Committee chair by environment secretary Liz Truss in December, suggested the department should carry out an efficiency audit of the EA to make “a much more focused Environment Protection Agency”.
Writing in a report released on his website, Helm (pictured) said “The worst reaction to the current floods crisis would be more of the same – a bit more emergency funding, and a bit larger EA budget.”
His comments came ahead of Truss announcing a restructuring of Defra, including the EA and Natural England working together locally using the same boundaries and plan from July.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, she said: “Under the leadership of Sir James Bevan and James Cross, these organisations will be more pragmatic, more responsive to local communities and deliver better value for money for taxpayers.
“In the future, we will be more integrated and less siloed. Defra and its agencies … will in the future be operating towards clear shared goals. There will be one back office so we can save money on admin and spend more on the frontline.”
Truss said the department was investing in technology and digital systems, exports and science through a 12% increase in capital funding to £2.7bn while making 15% efficiency savings over the next five years.
About £65m will be put into new centres for livestock, crop health and precision engineering to improve resilience to animal disease.
Helm’s more radical suggestions included new flood defence companies created on a catchment basis, within a single overarching structure or replicating the catchment model that the National Rivers Association inherited from the water authorities before privatisation.
“The new structure should be corporate, and could be in the private or public sectors. The crucial points are: the ability to borrow; the requirement for a risk register; and the requirement to trade solvently.”
There was no reference by Truss in her speech of funding for waste management.
Her announcement came as a major unions called on the Government to guarantee there will be no more cuts to the EA.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The EA has been cut to the bone in recent years and it is wrong. We all know that we will see more flooding in the future and yet there is still the threat of ideologically driven job cuts.”
GMB general secretary elect, Tim Roache said: “GMB want senior managers at the EA at three forthcoming high level meetings to openly call for it to be exempt from making any contribution towards the 15% cut in the Defra budget.”