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Environment Agency and Natural England to remain separate

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has concluded the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England should not be merged into a single agency.

As part of a triennial review launched by Defra last year it was suggested that merging the two bodies could save money and the combined body could act more effectively.

This would have followed in the footsteps of the Welsh Government, which created a new body, Natural Resources Wales, from EA Wales and two other environment organisations.

The proposal was criticised by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which called for the EA to continue as a separate entity.

But Defra’s announcement has allayed these fears. Paterson said: “I have concluded that the EA and Natural England should be retained as separate public bodies with separate purposes and functions, but that both bodies should continue to reform how they deliver their services to their customers and drive further efficiencies.”

The ESA had also called for flood protection to be transferred to Natural England to help the Agency focus on waste crime, but it has been confirmed the EA will retain all its current responsibilities.

An EA spokesperson said: “We welcome the triennial teview’s key findings that we should retain our current role and responsibilities, while continuing to reform to ensure effective and efficient delivery of frontline services, including flood protection. 

“We will continue working closely with Government and Natural England to achieve closer integration and better outcomes for communities and the environment.”

The announcement was applauded by the Resources Association. Chief executive Ray Georgeson said: “Merging NE and the EA would have been an unnecessary distraction for the Agency as it seeks to put more urgency into essential work such as tackling waste crime

“Further collaborative work between agencies is nevertheless welcomed to save money where possible.”

Sam Corp, ESA head of regulation, said Defra was right to “resist the temptation” to merge the two bodies.

He added: “We were never convinced that any savings made would be sufficient to outweigh the disruption that would result. 

“There is scope for better joint working, for example around planning applications, and we will be looking carefully at what is proposed here. But the main need is for the Environment Agency to remain focused on tackling waste crime and delivering the smarter regulation agenda.”

Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) deputy chief executive Chris Murphy said: “CIWM is keen that the EA in particular retains and improves upon their level of technical knowledge and addresses current concerns regarding the loss of existing expertise. We strongly believe that key issues such as fighting waste crime must remain a resource priority for the EA.”

Under a Government initiative set up in 2011 all non-departmental public bodies must undergo a three-yearly review.

The EA/Natural England review concluded any saving made through merger would be outweighed by “substantial disruption” to the functions of both.  

EA’s budget for 2013/14 was reduced to £1.096bn from £1.112bn in the previous year. The number of full-time equivalent staff has fallen from an 1,500 to 1,300, as the Environment Agency Wales became part of Natural Resources Wales.

In 2011/12 the EA’s budget for regulatory activity in England and Wales was £350m, involving 5,858 full-time equivalent staff (FTE).

The review said both bodies needed to “prepare for future regulatory reforms”, such as the Government’s recent announcement that regulators will face a statutory duty to take into account the financial impact on businesses they regulate.

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