Thames Lock Keepers Under Threat20 January 2014
GMB, the union for Environment Agency (EA) staff, has announced that it has discovered that EA plans to cut 90 resident lock and weir keeper posts from the river Thames. This follows the announcement from EA last year that it has planned staff cuts of 1700 positions for 2014.
GMB claims that the report will recommend the revival of previously rejected plans for a substantial reduction in the number of lock and weir keepers on the Thames and a freeze on further recruitment to these posts. EA originally claimed that the freezing of these positions would save £47,000 per residential post. Such a saving would free-up funds to use in essential maintenance across EA waterways. GMB has argued that EA can provide no evidence that such savings would result from the freezing of residential posts.
It is clear that EA would benefit from savings of this size. However, the removal of residential keepers would have a detrimental affect, reducing the service level at locks on the Thames; a pattern that is likely to take hold across all waterways services provided by EA as it continues to have to deal with large budget cuts. This highlights the importance of IWA’s continuing campaign to have EA’s navigation duties transferred to Canal & River Trust and the damage that EA waterways will potentially suffer as a result of delaying this move. Waterways owned, managed and operated by the government are not safe as the essential funds needed to properly maintain the waterways and provide an adequate service to users are not being made available to EA.
An additional concern of GMB’s, following the recent flooding, is that reductions in front line staff of this scale would have the potential to escalate the risk of flooding. EA has given assurances that this would not be the case as there are now over 200 members of staff on stand-by to respond to any incidents on the Thames. The Thames is not liable to flash flooding; instead, water levels increase over time after prolonged periods of rain. Any flood risk from the Thames comes with plenty of warning because of this slow increase and because water levels are continuously monitored remotely. This allows EA stand-by staff to respond to any risk of flooding in the necessary timescale.
EA has stated that its 2014/15 budget is yet to be confirmed but that it is likely to cut staff numbers from 11,250 at the end of March 2014 to around 9,700 by the end of October 2014. Staff numbers should then remain stable until March 2015.
For more information on Trade Union GMB’s views of these cuts, visit the GMB website.
Photo: Benson Lock, River Thames (courtesy of Graham and Marilyn Speechley)