Environment Agency accused of telling staff to pause inspections at poorly performing waste sites



The Environment Agency allegedly told staff to pause inspections at poorly performing waste sites until January to meet corporate compliance targets, according to a report in the Guardian.

Speaking to the Guardian and the Ends Report, an “insider” accused the Environment Agency of “massaging the figures” and said a lack of resources has led to the regulator “failing to do its statutory duty in a timely manner”.

The insider told the report that the Environment Agency is unable to regulate effectively because of budget cuts.

The Environment Agency aims to ensure that 97% of regulated waste sites are compliant with their permits as part of its corporate targets.

The report claims to have seen an email sent on 20 September 2023 that showed a “senior installations manager” for waste sites in Nottingham warning staff the region was at risk of missing this corporate target.

The insider told the report that the Environment Agency is unable to regulate effectively because of budget cuts.

The Guardian reports the manager asked officers to “PAUSE UNTIL JAN work which is not absolutely necessary to do now” in the email.

A technical lead officer raised concerns in response to the email, according to the Guardian. They warned that pausing inspection work could exacerbate existing environmental problems with waste sites in the East Midlands.

Responding to the report, an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “These claims are incorrect – our work to regulate these sites did not stop. We are responsible for over 600 waste and installation sites in the East Midlands, and it is not unusual to prioritise work on those which pose the greatest risk to the environment, for example, those with hazardous waste.

“Last year, all these sites received their necessary inspections by our officers – and we already have compliance plans in place for the forthcoming year, to ensure they meet our high standards.”

However, the insider told the Guardian it was “disingenuous” to claim all waste sites received the necessary inspections because the staff decided what “necessary” was.

“The subtext of that statement is that we define what necessary looks like, and what these individuals said [was] that for those poorly performing sites, we are not going to look. It’s like putting a telescope up to your blind eye and saying: ‘What signal, I see no signal,’” the insider said.

The Environment Agency insider also told the Guardian the instruction to pause inspections at the most poorly performing sites was “evil”.

“It’s saying: stop looking at the sites that we know are the worst. This is indicative of the fact that we are failing to do our statutory duty in a timely manner. It’s a method of massaging the figures to make it appear that the situation is better than it is,” they said.

Commenting on the emails, Helen Venn, the chief regulatory officer at the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), the government’s post-Brexit green regulator, said: “It is crucial for all government departments and public bodies to keep accurate records.

“Monitoring compliance with environmental law is a critical component of effective environmental regulation. We are undertaking work to consider the implementation and effectiveness of legislative frameworks and associated arrangements in relation to compliance monitoring.”

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