Press release from Prospect, Natural England’s staff trade union (10th November 2020):
Prospect launches second State of Natural England Report
A decade of austerity with pay cuts, budget cuts, cuts to grants and a decline in staff numbers is putting England’s natural heritage at risk.
That is the finding of the second report by Prospect into the State of Natural England which shows that the agency does not have the resources it needs to continue to adequately fulfil its responsibilities. The first report was published in 2019.
Over the past two years Prospect, the main union for workers in Natural England, has spoken to its members about their experiences at work, analysed budgets and grants, and assessed programmes. What we have found is an agency getting beyond 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 Special 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 and its workforce reduced. Natural England’s government-funded Grant in Aid budget has declined by 49% in six years and almost two-thirds over a decade. Over that time the agency has gone from more than 2,500 staff in 2010 to, we estimate, around 1,900 staff now.
Workers in Natural England were subject to a 1% pay cap for eight years. This has improved this year but the increase comes nowhere close making up for the real-terms losses of the past decade. There is also an 8.4% gender pay gap which shows little sign of being reduced.
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 morale 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, nature and the green recovery, 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 and pay equality, 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.
Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said:
“There is a yawning gap between the government’s rhetoric on climate change, the environment and biodiversity and the reality of years of underfunding our environmental agencies.
“Protecting nature means investing in the people who do that work. Natural England is at the heart of this agenda but it can only be effective if it is properly funded and the importance of its staff properly recognised.
“The disproportionate cuts, out-dated and unfit pay framework, and significant pay inequality all need to be addressed. The UK has a world-class natural environment which is treasured by the public, but this natural heritage will suffer if the expert custodians of our natural heritage continue to be treated as second class public servants.”
There’s also an article on this in today’s Guardian (here).
It might help a little bit if Natural England bosses stopped defending the pouring of money in to the insane Hen Harrier brood meddling trial, a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England.
Although the actual ‘meddling’ bit is apparently being funded in a secret financial arrangement between the Moorland Association (grouse moor owners’ lobby group) and the National Birds of Prey Centre in Newent – the cost of this has not been made public, which you’d think would be quite crucial when it comes to assessing the viability of this ‘trial’ – there is still considerable cost in terms of NE project staff time.
And then there’s the equally ridiculous NE project to ‘reintroduce’ hen harriers to southern England, another conservation sham aimed at drawing attention away from the criminal onslaught in the uplands, and for which NE is forking out thousands of pounds to send staff over to Europe, along with satellite tags bought by British tax payers, to fit to harriers in Europe in what looks like a way of ‘persuading’ the European authorities to send young harriers to the UK for the ‘reintroduction’. More details on this shortly.
The question of Natural England’s ability to conduct effective monitoring and enforcement of the new General Licences was raised in a Zoom call between Wild Justice and DEFRA officials yesterday. Judging by today’s report from Prospect, there’s very little indication that NE will be up to the task.