Will further Defra blunders damage countryside?
THE LATEST blunder by the troubled rural affairs department Defra was revealed today: despite slashing its budget for programmes like farm support payments, sea and river defences and veterinary research, it is sitting on an unspent budget of almost three quarters of a billion pounds.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information act show that it has kept £747 million in the bank since its creation after the foot and mouth disaster five years ago - yet this year it has cut £200 from its budget for dozens of projects considered vital by country folk.
Its latest quango, for instance, Natural England - which replaces highly respected bodies like English Nature, the Countryside Agency and parts of the Forestry Commission - had its budget slashed before it even came into being a month ago.
The cuts have been ordered by Chancellor Gordon Brown as he tries to make up for billions that have been lavished on education and the NHS for reforms which have never been carried through.
And despite hundreds of millions being held back, farmers have been told they told that they will not get all of their single farm payments due this year until 2007 at the earliest - and full payment might not arrive until 2008.