Environment Agency names new chief to replace James Bevan

Image: UNISON South West

The former director-general of growth and productivity at the Treasury will lead the Agency from July.

Outgoing chief executive James Bevan is due to step down at the end of March after seven years in the post, with his position to be filled by the executive director for local operations, John Curtin, for three months.

Duffy’s civil service career includes time as director of border policy at the Home Office and as chief operating officer at UK Border Force. Since joining the Treasury in 2017, Duffy has led work on transport, productivity, the environment, business support and culture.

He joins at a time when the environmental regulator has come under fire for lacking oversight of mounting issues – including river health. Successive budgetary cuts left it unable to complete all duties. Now, even with partially restored budgets, the outgoing chief executive stated it would not meet targets set out in the 25-year environment plan.

Speaking at a hearing for the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) Select Committee  earlier this week, Bevan said: “If we do not get more resources over the next few years, I am not confident we will hit targets. I don’t think we will.”

He stressed that the necessarily ambitious targets will require more work by the EA and other contributing stakeholders.

Bevan said goals, particularly for water quality and quantity, will require more spending by the EA, for which it is not currently funded.

Bevan appeared alongside Alan Lovell, who joined the EA from an executive background amid discussions of large-scale reform to the EA as one of Defra’s arms-length bodies. Reflecting on his first six-months as chair, Lovell dismissed arguments for fragmenting the EA as a means to improve.

Reforming the EA was proposed last year within the Nature Recovery Green Paperto streamline the work of bodies within Defra.

The departing CEO warned against being too precious abut the structure of the Agency, but said there was not a strong enough argument to overhaul and said he doubted it would improve outcomes.

“Rather than pull apart the Environment Agency to create two or three new organisations,” Bevan said, “I and the 12,000 people I lead would rather be getting on with protecting constituents and would rather spend any money available on outcomes than on new IT and email addresses.”

During the session, the pair were quizzed on proposals to give the EA additional powers to prosecute water companies that breach environmental laws.

Both rejected the £250 million fines put forward by former environment secretary Ranil Jayawaredena last summer.

Lovell told the committee he supported fines that “have got to hurt” in the region of £10 million to £25 million, but suggested the 1,000 times uplift from current fines was unnecessary.

Ruth Willams

This article first appeared in edie’s sister title Utility Week

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