Boardroom manoeuvring at SEPA

An overhaul of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency is set to result in a single national organisation to replace the three regions. But SEPA's latest annual report shows that incoming Chief Executive Tricia Henton faces a tough challenge, with targets on water quality continuing to appear out of reach. 1

Only two of SEPA's original board members remained in place this autumn, following a shake-up initiated by Chairman Ken Collins after he took the reins in October 1999. In June, SEPA announced that Alasdair Paton, Chief Executive since its inception in 1996, was to retire early "to pursue other interests". His contract had been due to run for another four months.

Ms Henton, aged 50, formally took up the post in October, having been appointed in June by a panel including Mr Collins, other board members and an independent observer. A chartered geologist, she was previously SEPA's Director of Environmental Strategy. Earlier jobs include spells with environmental consultancy Aspinwall and the Forth and Clyde River Purification Boards.

Announcing her appointment, Mr Collins said he hoped to put SEPA and the environment much higher on the public and political agendas. "It's all aimed at building a platform for sustainable development rather than just achieving 16,000 inspections - although that is important," he told ENDS.

Mr Collins has set up a sub-committee to look at organisational change which should report by the end of the year. SEPA is also awaiting a report from Audit Scotland.

The process is set to see the abolition of the present regions, and the creation of an integrated structure. The three regional directors will in effect be replaced by a single Operations Director - and Willie Halcrow, currently East Region Director, has got the job.

West Region's John Beveridge is to be Communications Director, while the North Region Director, David MacKay, is to retire. Ms Henton's former post will be abolished. Despite the new centralised structure, SEPA plans to retain its three regional boards to maintain links with local authorities and interest groups.

Meanwhile, SEPA is under pressure from the Scottish Executive to improve performance. New Environment Minister Sam Galbraith has sought to make his mark by drawing attention to SEPA's failure to meet its targets to review landfill site licences and improve surface water quality. "I will be seeking assurance these targets will be met," he said on the launch of SEPA's latest annual report on 31 October.

  • Resources and fees: Staffing rose from 686 to 752 during 1999/2000, and SEPA says that further increases will be necessary to meet the demands of new EC Directives. It will benefit from an extra £16.5 million in grant-in-aid over the next three years - an increase of almost one-third.

    Despite the new cash, the Agency is signalling further increases in fees and charges. The report says it intends to achieve full cost recovery on its regulatory business next year. Charging scheme income rose £3 million in 1999/2000, reducing the shortfall that year to £4.2 million.

  • Water quality: The Agency made negligible progress on river quality during 1999/2000. The length of Scottish rivers classified as poor or seriously polluted fell by just five kilometres - to 1,264km. Since 1996, the figure has improved by 4% compared with a target of 20% by 2000.

    Progress on coastal waters also continues to disappoint. The length of poor or seriously polluted coastal waters increased by 4.6% between 1996 and 1999, against a target to achieve a 15% improvement by 2000. SEPA attributes the deterioration primarily to better quantification of pollution.

    Significant pollution incidents increased to 282 in 1999/2000, up from 261 the previous year. Sewage accounted for 29% of the total - a problem which SEPA anticipates will diminish as the water authorities proceed with major investment programmes over the next five years.

    Sewage caused 81 serious pollution incidents, up from 58 the year before. Trade effluent caused a further 20, up from seven in 1998/99.

  • Waste: SEPA has a target to review all major landfill site licences on a four-year cycle - equating to 18 per year. However, only 13 were reviewed in 1999/2000 compared with 20 the year before.

    The Agency reported better news on operator performance at waste sites. In 1998/99, only 67% of sites demonstrated "satisfactory" performance (ENDS Report 297, p 13 ) - but last year the figure rose to the target level of 80%. The ratings are measured using SEPA's Waste Operators Performance Assessment scheme.

    There was also continued improvement in the number of inspections achieved - up 11% in the year to 15,779 - almost meeting the Agency's target.

    Without offering an explanation, however, SEPA is planning fewer inspections in 2000/01 - only 14,580. Its target for 1998/99 was 16,100.

  • Industrial pollution control: SEPA reviewed 32 authorisations under the integrated pollution control (IPC) regime during the year and 290 under local air pollution control (LAPC) - meeting or exceeding targets in each case.

    The report says that 88% of IPC sites demonstrated satisfactory operator performance - a slight deterioration - as did 82% of LAPC sites compared with 74% the year before.

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