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Yorkshire Post

Farmers slam flood bosses over 30m advice bill

Published Date: 02 November 2010
FLOOD defence bosses who are facing huge cuts to their budgets spent more than 30m on consultants in the past five years, prompting the head of a Government committee to call for greater spending restraint.
Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post show the Environment Agency has spent a total of 30.4m since 2005 on outside experts and officials, drawing criticism from some of the region's farmers who claim consultants are being hired to express views which could just as easily be gleaned from the local farming communities who have operated in the area for decades.

This view was echoed by Thirsk and Malton Tory MP Anne McIntosh, who said greater control over maintaining flood defences should be handed to Yorkshire farmers and landowners who operate in the area.
Ms McIntosh, chair of the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, said budget cuts meant agency officials would have to do more with less and that slashing consultancy fees would have to form a part of this.

"There is a great deal of expertise within Internal Drainage Boards. I would urge the Environment Agency to exercise restraint on the cost of consultants when you have such expertise available."

The news comes as the Environment Agency prepares to slash more than 100m from its spending on new flood defence projects and amid increasing complaints that day-to-day maintenance operations on watercourses and flood systems are falling behind.

Jenny Bashford, the National Farmers' Union water policy advisor, said: "The key is value for money. The person in charge must have the technical knowledge so they will know what the contractors are saying to them. They should not be led by the world of the consultant."

Martin Voase, a farmer based near Beverley, in East Yorkshire, saw much of his farm swamped under water during the floods of 2007.
He said: "You would think they would have people in the agency who would have the knowledge. I believe the agency could be spending its money better."

He added: "We are aware of a lot of technical issues along the River Hull and wonder if we are being listened to.

"We are frustrated by the fact that they are spending all this money on consultants, money that could be better spent on maintenance of the system. If we end up with a very wet period, and who is to say we won't do, we could easily see another emergency situation."

Craig McGarvey, project manager for the Environment Agency in Yorkshire, said hiring consultants was often more cost effective than training staff internally but added that the consultancy bill was likely to fall in light of spending cuts.

"We need these consultants to help facilitate flood defence schemes. They provide advice on how we would build it and how much it would cost, right through to detailed engineering work and managing some of the construction."

Mr McGarvey told the Yorkshire Post that local maintenance work spending had increased in real terms from 1.8m to more than 3m over the past three years and that all work was on schedule to be completed.
"We do use real information when we are drawing up how we will approach big flood schemes and more and more we are talking to drainage boards and local farmers.

But there is a difference between local anecdote and local data. If you are drawing up a 10m flood defence scheme you cannot do that on the back of anecdote you need more science. [Please see footnote]

Mr McGarvey added that frontline flood defences would be prioritised when considering spending cuts.


Footnote from Ewan  - and just look where 'more science' got the Environment Agency with the 110 Jubilee River fiasco!  All three hydraulic models were flawed!