Defra to axe 1,400 jobs

As Defra announced it is to axe 1,400 jobs the NFU welcomed a modest overall increase in the Defra budget, but expressed concern that other vital areas could be left short of cash.

As Defra announced it is to axe 1,400 jobs the National Farmers Union welcomed a modest overall increase in the Defra budget, but expressed concern that after taking into account new spending commitments on flood defence and climate change, other vital areas of the Department's work, such as animal health, could be left short of funds.

The Defra budget settlement of £3.94 billion for 2008/09 represents an increase of 1.4% on its existing budget, after allowing for inflation. It will also mean that 1,400 jobs have to go.

But the new Defra budget has to cover additional spending commitments of several hundred million pounds for investment in clean energy technologies and additional funding for flood defence, which means that the amount available for all the other areas of expenditure will be significantly reduced.

Defra has set aside at least £33m in a contingency budget to handle future animal health crises, following the foot and mouth and bluetongue outbreaks.

NFU director general Richard Macdonald said: "This is a difficult settlement, when you bear in mind that climate change is supposed to be at the top of the Government's list of priorities, and that most of the work related to it falls under Defra's remit.

"However, the £10 million being made available to develop pilot projects on the generation of renewable energy through anaerobic digestion is welcome, as is continued spend in related r and d. We are glad as well that funding for the England Rural Development Plan is being increased and for the Rural Payments Agency is being maintained. However, spending on these two areas is largely dictated by EU policy. Those budget headings over which the Government has a large measure of discretion, such as animal health and WRAP (the Waste and Resources Programme), face significant cuts, in order to allow for increases elsewhere."

Macdonald continued: "Overall, it would say more for the Government's commitment to fighting climate change if new money was being found to cover the costs involved, rather than having to be cobbled together from cuts imposed on other important areas of work."

The government move is part of a recasting of Defra's £3.94bn budget following a ministerial crisis meeting at the beginning of the month after officials realised that the department was facing a £1bn overspend in the next three years.

It will mean the end of much ministry support for business, cuts in consultant contracts, closure of offices and voluntary redundancy for 1,400 of Defra's staff. The Waste and Resources Action Programme, which promotes recycling, sees a 30% funding cut, from £59m to £43.2m.

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