Agency's response to criticism

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The Environment Agency's (EA) independent board members hit back at criticisms of the quango's role in preparing the country for floods in a strongly worded statement. Here it is in full:

"As independent board members of the Environment Agency we have been following the commentary about the agency's performance over the recent weeks of unprecedented rain and storms.

"We know that flooding always causes misery, and we sympathise with the anger and frustration felt by flood victims in Somerset, the Thames Valley and many other places. We are also pleased that, since early December, over one million homes and thousands of businesses have been protected from flood damage by the defences we have put in place.

"We are very concerned about recent public and political criticism of our staff and our chairman.

"Our work is based on firm evidence and tested science. Of course it is open to anyone to take issue with expert scientific opinion. But at a time of emergency it is more important for us all to focus relentlessly on managing the current floods and helping to minimise their impact.

"Just as it is wrong to criticise the work of our staff on the ground, it is equally wrong to seek to place blame for the recent flooding events on the chairman and 'people in London'.

"We are tasked with implementing government policy and are subject to Treasury rules about the use of public money. These are designed to target resources where they can have greatest effect in terms of policy objectives. So we also welcome the extra money which has now been allocated to flood defence nationally, and in Somerset.

"We will ensure that every pound of taxpayers' money we invest offers real value now and in the long term. The agency will be dredging rivers in Somerset as soon as it is safe to do so. The wider debate about dredging and what it achieves needs to be had. The time for that is when these floods are over.

"We attach a message which we have sent today to all Environment Agency staff supporting them in their vital work - alongside other dedicated professionals from the emergency services, local authorities and the military.

"Robert Light, Peter Ainsworth, Karen Burrows, Emma Howard Boyd, Richard Leafe, Richard Macdonald, John Varley, Jeremy Walker.

"Independent board members, Environment Agency."

The message sent to EA staff yesterday reads as follows:

"Throughout the many incidents of recent years - flood related and others - the agency's board has been consistently impressed by the professionalism, commitment and resilience of staff, managers and directors - and never more so than in last two months.

"So we have been deeply concerned about the recent campaign of criticism, particularly around the handling of flooding in Somerset. We think this criticism is ill-informed and unfair - and we particularly deplore the personal nature of some of it.

"We fear it can only have the effect of undermining public confidence in the agency, our chairman - whom we fully support - our managers and our staff, and belittling the work that you do. This is wrong and very unhelpful at a time when we are all working hard to minimise the impact of extreme weather.

"We want to put our views on record to you and publicly. We also want to say a big thank you for your fantastic work. We also attach to this message the text of a letter we sent to the Sunday Times, which was published yesterday, although sadly they chose to cut most of it out before it was printed. Thank you again for all that you do."

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