Response to flooding shows how Prospect members who are essential workers deliver through the pandemic

Garry Graham · 29 January 2021

Throughout this pandemic, frontline medical workers have rightly been the focus for praise, and we have also come to appreciate people like delivery drivers and supermarket workers more than we ever did. But there is a wealth of other workers who perhaps sometimes get overlooked when we think about who enables us to function as a country at thus difficult time.

One such group of workers is those working at the Environment Agency, their importance demonstrated by the excellent management of the recent floods. Prospect members at the Environment Agency provide a number of flooding-related services, from prevention to early warning and clean-up. 

For example, the Environment Agency has a 24/7 flood forecasting and warning service. Most of the time the public don’t know it exists but when storms hit and waters rise it is Prospect Members warning communities, and communicating with them, Government and the Media. We saw them in action dealing with Storm Chrisophe last week, and they will be alert for the bad weather forecast to come. 

Prospect members are also involved with looking at the weather and tidal forecasts, providing vital information for planning where staff and equipment may need to be deployed. Other members are monitoring gauges for rainfall, river and tide levels and using that data to recommend and issue the alerts and warnings to the public.  

It’s not just when the floods are happening that Prospect members are in action, after the floods they help communities to recover and clear up the mess. They also work to make sure floods don’t happen again, repairing defences, putting in new ones that have been damaged during the flooding and planning future work. 

The only time we really see Environment Agency workers is when there’s a flood or some other incident which requires their emergency input, but they are essential workers, just like so many others. The preventative work they do doesn’t get much coverage, but it is even more important than their emergency work as it stops those emergencies from happening.  

What we don’t see often enough, is the proper recognition from government that this work is essential, that it is skilled, and that it deserves a proper level of pay. Like most public sector workers, the Environment Agency has, until recently, been subject to a pay cap – a pay cut in real terms. This iniquity must not be repeated at what would be a devastating time for both those works affected and for the economy. The government must cancel its planned public sector pay freeze now.