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Cuts: hard-hit Defra to concentrate on front line services

[Thursday 21 October 2010]

Under new management

THE food and environment department Defra is to take one of the biggest spending hits of any Government department, it was revealed in yesterday’s comprehensive spending review.

But it is promising to concentrate future spending on front line services rather than backroom bureaucracy.

The department will slash every day spending by 29% and capital spending by 34% - and the administration budget will fall by a massive on third over the next five years. Its pledges include:

  • Defra will reprioritise its spending, focusing tax payer’s money on British farming and food production; enhancing the environment and biodiversity; and supporting a green economy resilient to climate change.
  • Making more efficient use of resources for animal welfare and disease prevention and control, by taking forward proposals to involve the industry in sharing the responsibility and cost of disease control.
  • Abolishing British Waterways as a public corporation in England and Wales; a new waterways charity will be created.
  • Funding will be stopped for 7 waste PFI projects, saving £3 million by 2014-15 and more in the longer term.
  • Reducing the number of quangos DEFRA funds from 92 to 39.
  • Reducing red tape and unnecessary burdens on farmers and food producers, without compromising standards. The task force on Farming Regulation will report by early 2011.
  • Reforming the Environment Agency’s staff lease car scheme – saving up to £3 million per year.

Says Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman: “Our strategic aim is to deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge that the Coalition will be the greenest Government ever, whilst playing our part in tackling the economic deficit that we have inherited.

“This settlement reflects the need to make significant savings alongside meeting the priorities we have set and maintaining important frontline services in respect of flood defences, environmental protection and animal health monitoring.”

Our countryside expert John Sheard writes: Although these cuts are amongst the hardest to face any Government department, there is some good news here, including the abolition of no less than 53 quangos. But only if Defra delivers on its promises.

By pledging to concentrate on food production and the environment at the expense of bureaucracy, it has pleased countryside organisations like the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

But this will only happen if decisions on staff job losses are taken by front line people like Environment Agency inspectors because past experience has shown that if bureaucrats are allowed to decide who stays and who goes, they protect themselves and workers at the coalface are axed.

The decision to hand British Waterways over to a charity will come as a shock in the south western Yorkshire Dales, because the Leeds-Liverpool Canal through Skipton and surrounding countryside is a major tourist attraction and revenue earner.

But we should remember that the canal system was saved by amateur workers back in the 1960s when the pen pushers of what is still a nationalised industry allowed it to sink into a stagnant rubbish dump over hundreds of miles.

Of one thing we can be assured: these so called “amateurs” have a deep affection and understanding of the canals and will fight tooth and nail to preserve them.

Feedback received on this subject:

The canals will only survive if the current management (who are on inflated salaries higher than the Prime Minister) are replaced by a new organisation taking note of the stakeholders.


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