EA and NE to remain as two separate bodies

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced that the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE) will continue to work as two separate bodies.

The decision came after a period of assessment after the launch of the triennial review in December 2012, part of government’s rolling programme that examines non-departmental delivery bodies every three years.

Proposals included either keeping both agencies separate and introducing budget cuts to improve service, or merging the two agencies together to form a single body responsible for environmental affairs. The latter suggestion came after a similar merger in Wales saw the Environment Agency Wales, The Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales, merge to form a single body, now known as Natural Resources Wales.

Stakeholders responding to the review had voiced concerns that merging the EA and NE could lead to some functions becoming ‘swamped’ and leading to ineffective ‘conflict resolution’.

Further, there were ‘strong concerns’ that a single body would risk losing a ‘single, independent voice for nature’ as well as concerns over ‘costs, any potential level of disruption and risks to delivery from any changes’.

Owen PatersonIn response to these concerns, Environment Minister Owen Paterson (pictured right) has now said that the two bodies will remain separate.

Writing in the foreword to the findings of the ‘Triennial Review of the Environment Agency and Natural England’, he said: ‘During this review, I have heard from many of the bodies’ customers, who have told me how much they value what the EA and NE do, and about how their services have improved significantly in recent years. However, I have also heard ideas for ways to improve delivery. In particular, to give businesses who work with both bodies a more integrated and effective customer experience, and the need for further innovation and greater efficiency in order to allow the bodies to remain resilient in the face of difficult challenges ahead.

'I have therefore concluded in this Review that the EA and NE should be retained as two separate public bodies with separate purposes and functions, but that both bodies should continue to reform how they deliver their services to their customers and drive further efficiencies.’

He added: ‘I am confident that the changes set out in this report strike the right balance between retaining two strong bodies with clear remits to deliver Defra’s priorities, and making transformational changes to the way the bodies work, both individually and collectively, to ensure that they have a resilient and successful future.’

Report findings

The review report found that analysis of the proposal to merge the two bodies suggested that the ‘costs and disruption associated by a merger would not be sufficiently outweighed by the benefits to justify a move, particularly when significant further progress is possible within the existing structure’.

According to the review, Defra will mandate the leadership of the two bodies to ‘continue to drive reform’. This will include:

  • improving integration and innovation;
  • delivering gains in efficiency and productivity;
  • maintaining resilience; driving culture change;
  • developing a better experience for customers; and
  • supporting sustainable economic growth.

However, government has said that it is up to the EA and NE to ‘determine how best to deploy their resources to deliver these outcomes’.

The report also notes that a clear commission will be set for the Chairman and Chief Executives of both bodies ‘to produce and deliver a joint plan for driving further integration’ and commit to ‘driving back office efficiences and sharing of services’.

A plan for action in repsonse to the reviews conclusions is expected to be produced by the two bodies in autumn 2013, to be followed by a progress report in June 2014.

Positive Response

The Environmental Services Association (ESA), a trady body representing the UK’s waste and resource management industry, welcomed the decision to keep the two bodies separate.

ESA’s Head of Regulation, Sam Corp, said: "Defra is right to have resisted the temptation to merge the Agency and Natural England; we were never convinced that any savings made would be sufficient to outweigh the disruption that would result.  

“There is scope for better joint working, for example around planning applications, and we will be looking carefully at what is proposed here. But the main need is for the Environment Agency to remain focused on tackling waste crime and delivering the smarter regulation agenda."

Ray Georgeson, Chair of the Resource Association, added: Merging NE and the EA would have been an unnecessary distraction for the agency as it seeks to put more urgency into essential work such as tackling waste crime. Further collaborative work between agencies is nevertheless welcomed to save money where possible.”

Read the findings of the ‘Triennial Review of the Environment Agency and Natural England’ report.