Government warned against Defra cuts

Announced cuts to the Defra budget have attracted criticism from the sector. 

Chancellor George Osborne announced the cuts this morning, with four government departments provisionally agreeing to trim budgets by an average of 30% over the next four years.

The four departments are Defra, the Treasury, the Department for Transport, and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Chancellor hopes the cuts will “help public finances back into surplus”.

Industry bodies have warned that any cuts to Defra will undermine the country’s ability to deal with animal disease outbreaks.

Sean Wensley, British Vetinerary Association president, warned against further cuts. “In recent years we have already seen the impact of significant cuts to Defra’s budget on veterinary fees for TB testing and other OV services and on disease surveillance. Our major concern is that more cuts in these areas could further erode the UK’s preparedness for a disease outbreak, which could have massive implications for animal and human health, animal welfare and the reputation of UK agriculture.

“The Defra Secretary of State has repeatedly said that animal health and welfare is a priority so we would urge Defra to protect animal health and welfare budgets relative to other areas of spend and ensure that short-term savings do not lead to serious adverse consequences in the longer term.”

National Farmers' Union (NFU) president Meurig Raymond added: “Our priority is for farming businesses to be productive and profitable and we are concerned that cuts of up to 30% could damage front-line delivery services that underpin this aim. That is why we believe that Defra should first seek savings in ‘back office’ functions rather than reducing spending on areas that are key to our members, such as animal health, flood protection and a fully functioning Rural Payments system.

“The NFU also have concerns about cost recovery - if this simply means paying for the continuation of services that could be delivered more effectively and efficiently. We believe there is scope for some services, including some provided by agencies such as the Environment Agency, to be delivered more cost-effectively by other providers.”

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