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)
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Encouraging the development of rural and remote
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835