Defra’s expenditure settlement was announced by George Osborne on Wednesday. Defra’s budget for resource spending has been reduced by 29% and capital spending by 34% over the five years of the spending review period. Moving forward expenditure will be focused on British farming and food production, enhancing the environment and biodiversity, and supporting a green economy resilient to climate change.
The savings will be found by reducing staff numbers; reducing the number of quangos Defra funds from 92 to 39; reducing red tape; and removing Defra’s contribution to Rural Development Programme (RDP) for England. This will allow environmental stewardship schemes to remain open to all farmers. Defra will also prioritise schemes that will be most beneficial to the environment, increasing the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme by 80%. Such a move is very welcome given that we wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to back the scheme.
In other departments, DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) will reduce resource spending by 18% in real terms whilst increasing capital spending by 41%. Perhaps most importantly from our perspective, there will be up to £1 billion of funding for the Green Investment Bank – to help secure more funding for the project from the private sector – whilst sales of public assets would add to the initial fund. The £1billion contribution from the government is not as large as environmental groups had called for. However the decision to include public funding for the Green Investment Bank is welcome as it had been that it was under threat.
Meanwhile the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)’s overall budget will be reduced by £1.1bn over the next four years. Savings of 7.1% would be made over the next four years from local government. Local Authorities are, however, going to be given greater power by removing the ring fencing of revenue funds for everything except for educational spending.
The environment is an important part of the reform agenda and creating more woodland while restoring and protecting our existing ancient and native woodland assets should continue to be supported financially as well as in policy. Crucially, there is still time to influence the Natural Environment White Paper for England – please add your voice to ours and send your “Dear Defra” e-mail today.
Lee Bruce, Government Affairs Officer