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EFRA urges Truss to make case for strong Defra

With more spending cuts coming - whoever wins in May - the future of many smaller departments will be up for review when a Government is formed.

For some, this could mean being swallowed up by larger departments - in Defra’s case this would most likely be the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Alternatively, some small departments could be expanded, taking on additional functions from elsewhere.

 

Defra has already seen huge cuts to its budget in recent years, with its projected 2015/16 budget of £2.3 billion contrasting with a £3bn budget in 2010/11.

 

In a report on Defra’s 2013/14 performance, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee expressed frustration at the continued ‘lack of clarity surrounding pending budget reductions’.

Impact

The MPs urged Mrs Truss to be ‘clearer about where budget cuts would fall and what impact this would have on Defra’s policy delivery’.

 

“Given the breadth of policy areas covered by the department, coupled with the unpredictable nature of emergency events - such as flooding or animal and plant diseases - it is important a strong case is made to protect Defra’s budget at the next Spending Review,” the report said.

 

Efra chairman, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, said the committee wanted Mrs Truss to make the case for a strong Defra now, both within her party and to senior civil servants.

 

“We would like the Secretary of State to go out there and really stand her corner about what spending needs to be ring-fenced because in six months’ time it will be too late. Things will move fast after the election,” she told Farmers Guardian.

 

“I do not believe there is a strong argument for reducing the department. If anything, they should expand Defra by bringing in the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the Food Standards Agency and more natural environment policy.”

 

NFU president Meurig Raymond said the farming industry wanted Defra to be maintained after the election, with sufficient funding levels to allow it carry out its work effectively - for example, by driving exports, making the industry more competitive and championing the food security agenda.

 

Also in the Efra report

  • Defra must be more transparent about where money for emergencies, such as the winter floods, is found and what impact this will have on other spending areas
  • It queried Government plans to attract £600 million from private funders to bolster flood defences, citing low levels of private funding attracted to date. Defra said £140m had been raised so far and it was working closely with the Environment Agency to attract more investment
  • Poor staff morale was highlighted among Defra’s civil servants. Its staff engagement score lags 6 percentage points below the Civil Service Average
  • Called on Defra to clarify its plans for the continuation of badger culling in Gloucestershire after the pilot culls second year failed to reach its target for badgers removed. MPs asked Defra to set out why the cull had failed to meet its target and to state what changes would be made to ensure its future effectiveness
  • Warned at least £173m of EU disallowance penalties incurred for poor implementation of the previous CAP remained to be paid on top of £400m already paid. It urged Defra and the Rural Payments Agency to minimise disallowance risks under the new CAP, including by ensuring the new CAP IT system delivers ‘timely and accurate’ payments
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