Budget Cuts and Environmental Career Trends

by | Jul 25, 2011

In the U.K., the self-proclaimed “greenest government ever” announced in October some of its most vicious spending cuts to the environment. This year alone, the budget of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will shrink – from about £3bn ($4.9bn) and by about £700m by the end of the four-year spending period in 2015. As a result, the department and its delivery agencies, including the Environment Agency, which monitors pollution and protects against flooding, and Natural England, which helps look after the natural world, will have to shed 5,000 to 8,000 out of a total of 30,000 jobs.

Nevertheless, demand for environmental expertise continues to soar as the consultancy sector goes from strength to strength and new corporate roles are created for climate change, sustainability and social responsibility specialists, while compliance-based roles continually reward professionals that have both environmental and health and safety qualifications.

In light of the cut-backs at the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive (HSE), senior level compliance-based roles consistently require health and safety, as well as environmental, experience. Chris Saunby, Environmental Recruitment Manager at Allen & York, suggests that some jobs roles are being combined and there is a demand for an Environmental Manager with NEBOSH certificate qualified and knowledge of 14001 and 18001 management systems.

Cuts to the HSE and the Working Environment

With cuts of 35% to the Health and Safety industry’s watchdog, the HSE, coinciding with the fact that employers will no longer face automatic health and safety inspections, health and safety specifically within the construction industry has been recently scrutinized in the media. With job losses within this area, more attention is being given to how the role of the Environmental Manager can be built upon in order to include health and safety responsibilities.

For example, with pressure from the government on the HSE affecting the safety of the workplace, specifically construction sites, the importance of assessing and preventing dangers in a workplace environment is in the limelight. George Guy, acting general secretary of  the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), said: “The Conservative-led government’s financial attacks on the HSE will make workplaces more dangerous and will lead to increased deaths and injuries of workers in future.”

Reports suggest the number of construction related deaths is already on the rise. The HSE’s figures were revealed by its head of construction, Philip White, at the London conference on Safety Schemes in Procurement, earlier this month. The provisional statistics revealed that the 2010/2011 period saw an increase of 15% on last year’s low of 42 deaths.

How will Environment Cuts Affect the Industry?

Meanwhile, by delving a little further into the proposed cuts for Defra we are able to better assess the impact of the cuts on career opportunities in the environment sector.

Defra’s biggest cuts in money terms are in resource spending for administration and front-line services, which will be reduced by 29%, from £2.3bn this year to £1.8bn in 2014-15.  Specifically, capital spending, mostly on flood defences, will drop from £600m this year to £400m each year. With cuts in place, it is the quality and qualifications of employees that become important.

With the Environment Agency needing to reduce staff numbers by 3,000 in three years’ time, environmental professionals are up skilling in order to not only secure their role but to progress within their career. Recognizing the value of the combination of Health and Safety and Environment combinations is Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, who said he is pleased to support a recently launched NEBOSH Diploma for Environmental Management, “as it provides the core knowledge for practical environmental management in industry.”

Meanwhile, catastrophes, at high risk environmental sites, such as The Big Creek mine disaster, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and the death-defying rescue of the Chilean miners put health, safety and the environment in the headlines. Combined with HSE cuts, fewer workplace inspections and a tighter budgetary situation for the Environment Agency, health and safety skills will be increasingly required within senior compliance based environment roles.

The HSE is under pressure from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to limit the number of on-site inspections it carries out. HSE Chief Executive, Geoffrey Podger, also said the department would have to adapt and cut up to 350 jobs.  With fewer inspections, the responsibility to ensure a safe working environment lies even more with the corporation.  Sources have revealed that industry bodies will be asked to ensure their members self-regulate while HSE inspectors focus mainly on high-risk sites. Self regulation provides another reason for corporations to allocate these responsibilities to existing Environmental professional and those with a NEBOSH qualification and previous Health and Safety experience make them a very valuable asset.

Victoria Kenrick is a specialist at Allen & York, a leading international Sustainability Recruitment consultancy, offering jobs in Environment, CSR & Sustainability, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, plus Health and Safety Management. Allen & York has also witnessed an increase in Health & Safety roles within the UK and the rest of Europe, particularly in the areas of Renewables, Retail and Consultancy. To discuss your Sustainable recruitment requirements or our latest job opportunities, please contact Allen & York at www.allen-york.com.

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