DEFRA was one of three government departments that agreed to provisional spending cuts of 30%, according to the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne.
But the NFU warned cuts to DEFRA’s budget must not impact the department’s responsibilities for driving through its food and farming strategy, animal health, flooding and its payment functions to farmers.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “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.”
Worried about cost recovery
The NFU also worried about cost recovery – if that meant paying for the continuation of services that could be delivered more effectively and efficiently.
“We believe that 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,” said Raymond.
The NFU has sought a meeting with ministers and officials as soon as possible to understand how the announcement will impact farmers and growers.
The affected departments were expected to cut day-to-day spending over the next four years through a combination of efficiency savings and closing low-value programmes.
The chancellor revealed today (November 9) that four departments – DEFRA, transport, local government and the Treasury – had provisionally agreed to the cuts, ahead of the autumn spending review on November 25.
Loss of confidence
The government has long argued that failure to control public spending and reduce levels of national debt will risk loss of confidence in the economy.
Most government departments had been asked to deliver plans to save between 25% and 40% of their annual budgets by the end of the current parliament. Some of departments, including health and overseas aid, have had their budgets ring fenced.
Meanwhile, the prospect of DEFRA being disbanded was raised last month by Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) deputy leader in the House of Lords Kate Parminter at the Lib Dem’s Bournemouth conference.
Food and drink Federation director general and Lib Dem activist Ian Wright was on record as saying the department made a key contribution to the food and drink manufacturing industry.
30% budget cut departments
- Local government
- The Treasury