I believe that the relationship between the Environment Agency and manufacturers is the best it has ever been, so therefore I am deeply concerned that major changes are afoot at the Regulator. We’re told that it might lose 40 per cent of funding it receives from central government, which could result in a 25 per cent cut in its 13,000 workforce.
We have criticised the Environment Agency in the past for significant variability in the quality of its inspectors, for its keenness to prosecute and then ask questions and its tendency for treating industry as the ‘bad guys’. Things have moved on a lot since then, so much so that a specialist Environment Agency inspector attends the entirety of our Policy Committee meetings. Our members really value the presence of the Regulator there, to hear manufacturers concerns and to work through issues together, rather than adopting an ‘us and them’ approach. The Agency gets to see, at first hand, the problems and barriers industry faces on a day to day basis.
EEF therefore would support any move, by the Agency, to develop national hubs of sector excellence, which can address our historical concerns of variable enforcement across England and Wales.
By and large the Agency is not only, trying to work with sectors to eliminate pollution incidents, but to increase process efficiency. Its NetRegs programme is a shining example of this. A largely underused resource that offers manufacturers and other sectors advice and compliance support on current and forthcoming regulations. A resource that is currently provided free, but more valuable than many paid for services out there.
Of course, the Agency must keep focused on its core remit. For example, the Agency doesn’t need to have a voice in climate change mitigation policy. It doesn’t have the regulatory leverage to deliver on this. However, it is central to government policy on climate change adaptation and climate change regulation compliance.
If this government body is not focused, our concern is that vital resources will be redirected from essential parts of the Agency at a time of increasing financial pressure. The Agency is already stretched and needs to retain its focus.
This message is also true for any proposals that the EA puts forward on developing a monitoring and reporting system that aims to measure the resource efficiency of manufacturing sites. My first reaction on hearing this, was ‘apples and pears’, how can a useful measure be calculated and reasonably reflect a manufactures’ process. Even if it could be done, why is it needed, what purpose would it achieve?
Although relationships have improved, we will of course be watching the Agency closely in the coming months to ensure it uses its new Civil Sanctions responsibly.
In the current ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’, government should not make a rash decision and throw the baby out with the bath water. The Environment Agency is doing a good job, within the limited resources it currently has.