Last year, employees of the Environment Agency were instructed to postpone inspections in order to meet their targets.
In September, the Environment Agency instructed employees to halt inspections of the lowest performing waste sites until January in order to meet their corporate compliance goals. This information has been disclosed.
The regulatory agency is facing allegations of manipulating data, as an informant revealed to the Ends Report and the Guardian that inadequate resources have led to the organization’s failure to fulfill its legal obligations in a timely fashion.
According to the goals set by the Environment Agency, the agency strives to guarantee that 97% of regulated locations, like landfills, are adhering to their permits.
Last year, on 20 September, a senior manager responsible for waste sites in Nottingham sent an email to staff. The Ends Report and the Guardian saw the email, which warned that the region was in danger of not meeting the company’s goal.
“The KPI states that our goal is to have 97% of our sites in compliance categories A, B, and C, which limits us to only 3% in categories D, E, and F. This translates to a maximum of 23.2 sites. Thus, we are striving for 23 sites – no more.”
The agency identifies any non-compliances in the course of a calendar year and uses this information to work out a compliance rating based on a points system. Based on the cumulative score over a calendar year, each site is placed into one of six compliance bands from A to F.
Sites in categories A and B have met the expected requirements for permits, while those in categories C and D need to make improvements to reach compliance. Sites in categories E and F must make significant improvements to be compliant. The score determines the amount of annual fees that regulated companies must pay to the Environment Agency.
The manager requested that officers temporarily halt any non-essential work until January.
After receiving the email, a technical lead officer expressed concerns about this plan and cautioned that existing environmental issues with waste sites in the east Midlands region could worsen if inspection work is halted.
On September 28th, a more senior team leader informed a junior staff member that if they were still not satisfied with the direction after reviewing the feedback and considering the best course of action, they could work on other projects with higher priority to avoid any potential conflicts.
An anonymous source from the Environment Agency expressed that this statement caused discontent among colleagues and those in the targeted division. The managers seemed to prioritize reaching a certain number over valuing their employees’ professional opinions.
The team leader reiterated the significance of “upholding our D E F KPI to the best of our abilities” as it is a KPI that is currently facing intense scrutiny from external sources.
The instruction was to “stop any tasks that could potentially lead to a site being relocated to D E F”.
The team leader requested that the officer create a plan outlining how they would address and reduce the risk associated with the designated waste site. The team leader also specified a preference for the plan to begin implementation in January.
“We can discuss how to effectively support Band U without causing any unforeseen issues that we are unable to manage or lack the means to handle,” they stated.
Band U refers to websites that have not been designated a specific classification due to lack of inspection.
A source within the Environment Agency referred to the directive regarding underperforming sites as “malicious”.
They stated that the message is to refrain from viewing the websites that are known to be the most problematic. This suggests that we are not fulfilling our legal obligation promptly. It is a way of manipulating the data to make it seem like the situation is more favorable than it actually is.
Once you become aware of a problematic site, it is important to address it. However, one way to resolve the issue is by reframing the site as not a problem. The external problem still exists, but the individual is choosing to ignore it in order to avoid creating an internal issue. This strategy was explained by the speaker as follows.
According to the source, the issue stemmed from inadequate resources, and as a result, the Environment Agency’s budget was significantly reduced, making it unable to effectively regulate.
“We are failing as a business if we cannot meet our KPIs without surpassing the traffic light target,” they stated. “Our success should not solely depend on meeting a specific traffic light target. Unfortunately, our current approach involves manipulating numbers to reach our predetermined goals.”
A representative from the Environment Agency stated that these statements are inaccurate. Our efforts to oversee these locations did not cease. We are in charge of overseeing more than 600 waste and installation sites in the east Midlands. It is common practice to prioritize work on sites that pose a significant threat to the environment, such as those containing hazardous waste.
“Previously, our officers conducted necessary inspections on all of these sites. We have already established compliance plans for the upcoming year to ensure that they continue to meet our strict standards.”
According to an insider, it would be misleading to say that all sites underwent required inspections, as the staff had the final say on what was deemed “necessary.”
The underlying message of that statement is that we determine the criteria for what is considered necessary. However, the individuals stated that for underperforming sites, we will not investigate further. This is similar to closing one eye and claiming to see no signs, despite using a telescope.
Helen Venn, the chief regulatory officer of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which serves as the post-Brexit green regulator for the government, emphasized the importance of maintaining precise records when commenting on the emails. She stated that monitoring compliance with environmental laws is a crucial aspect of successful environmental regulation. The OEP is currently evaluating the implementation and efficacy of legislative frameworks and corresponding procedures for monitoring compliance.