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Policy & Financial Management Review

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Environment Group Consultation: Scottish Environment Protection Agency Policy and Financial Management Review (Paper 2002/21)

September 2002

Executive Summary

UNISON welcomes the opportunity to comment on the SEPA Policy and Financial Management Review.

  • UNISON is concerned at the recent restructuring exercise within SEPA. We do not think this has improved the effectiveness of the organisation.
  • We do not believe SEPA is leading by example on sustainable development.
  • UNISON is calling for more resources and support for SEPA to ensure that it continues to provide the best service levels, and can perform effectively.
  • SEPA staff are working to the best of their abilities to provide a fair and efficient service within the constraints imposed.
  • We would like to see more openness and transparency within the internal operations of SEPA.
  • More debate is required on the regulatory, charging and penalty powers.



UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector. As the largest trade union in the Scottish water industry, UNISON members are both providers and users of water in Scotland. We also represent the majority of employees working within the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and have done since SEPA was established.

UNISON welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's consultative paper on SEPA.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive Environment Group - Scottish Environment Protection Agency: Policy and Financial Management Review.

General Comments

There is no doubt that SEPA has had some success since the organisation came into being in April 1996. Employees from a wide range of predecessor bodies are working together on a daily basis to protect and enhance Scotland's environment. However, UNISON Scotland believes that this success in the main is due to the commitment of staff. A recent survey of SEPA employees indicated that many work longer hours than they are supposed without payment. This should not be necessary in a well resourced, efficient organisation. Staff tell us that they feel they have to work these long hours in order to get the job done.

In our experience the staff of SEPA are highly motivated and skilled. People come to work at SEPA because of a commitment to the environment and a desire to help SEPA further its aims and objectives. They have not been helped by the management structures of the organisation. This was acknowledged by the restructuring exercise undertaken in 2000/2001. Unfortunately this exercise was in UNISON's opinion hurried. Little or no consultation was undertaken. The result is a structure which if anything has put more restrictions in the way of workers trying to carry out their duties.



In answering the questions raised by this consultation paper UNISON is concentrating on internal issues and in particular the issues which we see as requiring attention in order that staff are able to carry out their duties efficiently and effectively.

Q1 How do you rate SEPA's performance in delivering its main aim of providing an efficient, integrated system of environmental protection?

SEPA's recent restructuring exercise was designed to merge three largely autonomous Regional Directorates into a National organisation. It is UNISON's opinion that this restructuring exercise has at least caused as many problems as it solved and indeed has probably worsened the effectiveness of the organisation.

The result of the restructuring is a hybrid organisation which is neither national nor regional in structure. The Environmental Regulation and Improvement (ERI) function is managed locally with three ERI managers (ERIM's) reporting to the Director of Operations.

Environmental Assessment (EA) has local unit heads reporting to national head who in turn report to the Director of Operations. The Area Support Teams report nationally, the Process Engineering Unit reports to ERIM's while the Radioactive Substances Unit is a national unit reporting directly to the Director of Operations.

Environmental Assessment is divided into local units situated in the three former Regions, however Marine Science is only split into two areas, dividing the country into East and West.

This structure does not make for efficiency nor support integration whether inter-functional or geographical.

Restructuring created four Directorates. One, Operations, dwarfs the other three. The Operations Directorate is tasked with a wide range of functions including Environmental Quality Planning (EQP), Environmental Assessment and ERI. In simplified terms there is a loop whereby EQP sets environmental objectives, ERI carries out the work and EA assesses compliance and gathers information for EQP. Splitting the Directorates into ERI and EQP/EA would produce a more balanced organisation. It would allow ERI to focus entirely on the achieving the workload agreed with the EQP/EA Directorate and remove any potential conflict of interest in reporting data.

The support services for technical staff, such as Human Resources (HR), Administration, Public Affairs, Legal and Facilities have split line management. Consistency would be better achieved by them being managed by a dedicated Director and possibly as in many Local Authority models as a Chief Executive's Department.


Q2 How do you rate SEPA's performance in responding to the Executive's guidance on sustainable development

SEPA should lead by example but singularly fails so to do. It is a centralised structure concentrated in the Central Belt. Although constrained by the location of offices inherited by the organisation it has failed to develop a strategy to relocate existing offices, or locate new offices in areas well served by public transport to enable both travel to work and inter-office travel to be easily accomplished on public transport.

It has failed to devolve personnel to remote or rural areas. Although most offices have experienced a growth in staffing levels, the growth in small offices has been restricted in the main to field staff who require to live in the immediate area. SEPA should be positively discriminating in favour of locating jobs outside the Central Belt.

SEPA operates, by necessity, a large fleet of vehicles. No incentives are given to staff who operate their own, or a leased vehicle, to convert to duel fuel vehicles.

Little progress has been made in the use of technology to reduce travel, either by allowing home working or by the use of video conferencing facilities for meetings.


Q3 What do you think SEPA should be doing in its role as environmental champion and how effective do you think it has been in this role?

As noted above, UNISON believes that SEPA has not been as effective as it could be in its role as environmental champion. There are a number of actions and policy commitments that could improve SEPA's performance and effectiveness as an environmental champion, including:

  • Locating new offices in areas accessible by public transport.
  • Encouraging the development of rural and remote areas.
  • Encouraging the use of less harmful fuel.
  • Promoting new technology to reduce travel.


Q4 How do you think SEPA should maintain its dual roles of environmental regulator and environmental champion?

As set out above UNISON believes that SEPA could do more to develop and fulfil its dual roles of environmental regulator and environmental champion. The first step is to lead by example. SEPA should operate in a way that has as minimal detrimental impact on the environment as is possible, and instead should be promoting sustainable development. UNISON feels that to date most environmental initiatives that have been developed have come from staff.


Q5 Are there ways in which you think that the respective environmental protection responsibilities of Scottish Executive and SEPA could be made clearer?

Employees within SEPA are clear on their roles and responsibilities. However, as noted above we feel revised structures would create a more effective and efficient system.


Q6 Do you think that SEPA's role as an advisor to the Scottish Executive in the development of environmental policy is appropriate?

UNISON does believe that SEPA s role as an advisor to the Scottish Executive in the development of environmental policy is appropriate. The staff within SEPA are highly skilled and knowledgeable on environmental policy, and have a commitment to the environment. Therefore, we feel that SEPA is well placed to provide information and advise the Executive on these issues, allowing elected Scottish Ministers to make decisions.


Q7 What should SEPA do to ensure it can provide the best advice on international environment policy to the Scottish Executive?

SEPA requires the appropriate resources and technology to enable its employees to access information and carryout the research, so as they are able to provide the best advice on international policy to the Scottish Executive.


Q8 Are there ways in which SEPA's organisational structure, skills and expertise could be altered to help it perform its existing regulatory functions more effectively and to meet future environment protection needs?

SEPA must make the decision as to whether or not it is a national organisation with integration of management at a national level, or whether it will structure itself around local units with substantial autonomy. As has been said before, the present structure is a hybrid of the two. This hybridisation produces an asymmetric management structure at local level. Local Environmental Regulation and Improvement management for example is at senior management level, equivalent to the national management level for Environmental Assessment (EA). Local EA management is at a substantially lower level. This asymmetry can distort the local decision making process for example in Licensing Teams or Area Environment Groups.

Similarly SEPA must make a decision in terms of its Environmental Regulation and Improvement staff as to whether staff should be multi-skilled, that is perform duties over a spread of media and legislation, or whether they should develop specialist roles. Without clear guidance on this issue it is difficult to assess training needs and the level of guidance necessary for staff to carry out their duties. In general specialised staff would require more concentrated training but less structured guidance relying rather on their expertise. Multi-skilled staff would require a broader range of training and would require to be supported by detailed guidance to compensate for a lower level of expertise.

In order for SEPA to be able to maintain a well motivated, skilled workforce it has to make changes. It urgently requires an integrated training and development programme linked to a clear career structure. At present most staff are blocked from progression by the lack of such a career path. This potentially leads to poorly motivated staff looking only to leave the organisation. It is only the continued expansion of the organisation that has allowed some staff to progress.

SEPA must also provide clear guidance for managers as to their role within the organisation. At present managers assume the mantle of both technical expert and manager. Given the breadth of SEPA's activities it is clear that management cannot have the skills or the time to remain, or become, technical experts across a wide range of activities. They must be allowed to empower staff to carry out their role in the organisation without the need to continually refer routine work upwards.


Q9 In your view, is the allocation of responsibilities between SEPA and other bodies for protecting the environment clear and effective?

UNISON does not believe that the allocation of responsibilities is clear. There is confusion, especially amongst the public, as to the different roles. This is inevitable unless all environmental issues are delegated to one body. It would appear however that the issue should be addressed by co-operation between the different bodies rather than some alternative division of responsibilities. To some extent SEPA has addressed this by the creation of Local Authority Liaison Units along with the signing of Memorandums of Understanding with other bodies. An expansion of co-operation would be welcome.


Q10 Do you think that there are ways in which SEPA's relationship with other regulatory bodies could be developed in the interests of protecting the environment more effectively?

As noted above, UNISON believes that the development of joint working, partnerships and co-operation between SEPA and other regulatory bodies would be helpful to protecting the environment more effective. However, in order to carry out this liaison and partnership work, SEPA would clearly need additional resources to be effective.


Q11 In your opinion does SEPA provide a fair, efficient, proportionate and consistent service to regulated bodies?

UNISON is clear that SEPA staff are fair, efficient, proportionate and consistent in their service to regulated bodies within the constraints imposed by SEPA as discussed elsewhere.


Q12 In your experience is SEPA accessible to those wishing to make contact with it?

In general staff are as accessible as they can be within their given workloads.


Q13 In your experience of SEPA, do you think it is open and transparent?

There is a commitment to openness within SEPA but in our experience this is not always carried through in practice. In particular there is little information on the internal machinery of management which is made available to staff.

Much of the business of the Boards is carried out in private session and no papers are made available for such business. Similarly with the Corporate management Team. Their regular meetings are minuted, but the minutes are not available. Occasional briefs and action points are released but the impression amongst staff is of a closed management style. This leads to speculation and rumours in the workplace.

While it is appreciated that some information may be confidential, an open organisation should not be afraid to allow staff access to all other information.


Q14 Do you think SEPA responds effectively to needs of local communities and what role should SEPA's local offices and regional boards have in ensuring that the interests of communities across Scotland are properly taken into account by SEPA?

UNISON believes that SEPA is responding to the needs of local communities as best as it can. As we have noted above, SEPA staff are working long hours, but to the best of their ability. Providing SEPA with the necessary resources and personnel would be the best way to ensure that it is able to respond effectively to the needs of local communities.


Q15 In what ways do you think the efficiency of SEPA's existing system of environmental licensing could be improved, while enhancing environment protection?

The procedure for issuing licences in SEPA is cumbersome and bureaucratic. Licenses can only be signed by designated senior managers, whether or not they have any experience in that type of licence. Many licences are remitted to area licensing teams for their consideration, again delaying their issue.

A combination of confidence in staff, allowing them to sign and be accountable for their own work, training, local peer review and sensible guidance would allow licences to be issued more quickly with no loss of consistency. This would also free up staff time for senior managers currently involved in the approval/issuing process.


Q16 In what ways do you think SEPA should adapt its regulatory activities in the interests of enhancing and protecting the environment more effectively?

SEPA needs to ensure that it is able to adequately enforce environmental legislation and environmental best practice. In order to do this effectively, it needs the resources, personnel, and the authority from the Scottish Executive.


Q17 How do you think SEPA's charging scheme should be structured in order to guarantee effective environmental protection without placing undue burden on regulated sector or taxpayer?

UNISON believes that it is essential that SEPA is adequately funded and resourced to guarantee effective environmental protection. More consultation is required on this issue, to ensure that industry and the business community are contributing their fair share towards the operation of SEPA, along with resources allocated through the Scottish Budget.


Q18 In your experience, is there consistency in SEPA's charges and Environment Agency in England and Wales?


Q19 Do you think that prosecutions for breaches of environmental legislation provide effective means of ensuring environmental protection?

UNISON believes that more debate is required on this issue. However, we do feel that prosecutions - which could result in prison sentences, community service or fines - could provide effective means of ensuring environmental protection.


Q20 Do you think that SEPA should have powers to enforce fixed penalties for certain breaches of environmental legislation?

UNISON Scotland does believe that SEPA should have the authority to enforce fixed penalties for certain breaches of environmental legislation. More consultation is required on this issue, but it could be possible for SEPA to be given powers to impose fines on companies or individuals, where it is clear that a party had breached environmental legislation.


Q21 In your view is SEPA making best use of technology to improve efficiency, effectiveness and service provision?

UNISON Scotland does not believe that SEPA is making the best use of technology. As noted above, only limited use is made of video-conferencing, this results in staff travelling the length and breadth of the country for meetings which could have been carried out remotely.

SEPA, six years after the inception of a new organisation, still does not have many national databases which would enhance the ability of staff to carry out their work. Where databases do exist they are not integrated but stand alone. This is a bar to the recording and reporting of data.

To date there is no standard hardware available to all staff. Staff in the same room often have different makes and models of PC's with varying issues of software.

Full use is not made of existing electronic systems. For example, the electronic system which allows staff to reclaim expenditure is not utilised fully. Subsequent to a member of staff filling in their electronic expense form it has to be printed out for signature by a line manager. The form is then sent to Stirling by post where the data is checked and entered into another data base.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary

14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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