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
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
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
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
"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.