Haskins threatens rural services, unions warn

Haskins threatens rural services, unions warn

Unions representing staff in Defra have criticised today’s government statement (Wednesday) for failing to clarify how it plans to create a new land management agency, as recommended in Lord Haskins’ review of rural delivery.

On behalf of 7,000 members in government bodies dealing with the environment and rural affairs, Prospect and the Public and Commercial Services union said: "Today's statement by the Secretary of State is a far cry from the detailed response that staff in the affected organisations had expected. Given the time ministers have had to consider the Haskins’ recommendations, by now they should be in position to give staff clear indications for the future of their jobs."

But staff have been left without even basic information about the new agency. For example:

  • any indication of its size and scope
  • the likely location of its headquarters and regional structure
  • the timeframe in which current organisations would be disbanded and the legislation required to create the new agency be put in place
  • the overall number of job losses across the affected organisations
  • the cost of the programme and how it will be paid for.
The Haskins review called for the merger of Defra’s Rural Development Service, English Nature and elements of the Countryside Agency. "We have yet to see a business case identifying how this complex and expensive re-structuring exercise will improve delivery of services to rural communities," said Prospect national secretary Geraldine O’Connell.

"Our members remain unconvinced there is a need for the new agency and believe that many of the improvements sought could be achieved through a better co-ordinated approach at senior level, avoiding such a major disruption to existing delivery structures."

For example, the Countryside Agency will be decimated under these proposals. With 600 posts reduced to fewer than 50, it would be unable to take a leading role in research. Rather than being driven by measures to improve services to customers and taxpayers, the unions believe Defra sees the exercise as an opportunity to embrace targets in the Gershon and Lyons reviews aimed at reducing civil service numbers and relocating offices outside London.

"Our members provide essential services to support the rural economy and to protect and enhance the country’s natural environment. At the very time the government is looking to staff to take forward new initiatives and meet challenging targets on sustainable development and economic regeneration in rural communities, it is unable to give staff answers about their own future," said PCS spokesperson Marilyn Bayes.

O’Connell added "Such uncertainty and insecurity is bound to affect morale and could jeopardise important programmes such as the launch of the new Environmental Stewardship Schemes."