Defra’s budget for day-to-day spending is to be cut by 15% over the next four years. This will be difficult to achieve since total budget reductions of about a quarter during the last Parliament have already identified easily achievable savings and removed the more obvious inefficiencies across the Defra family.
Defra is one of the smaller government departments, with Exchequer funding of just over £2 billion, but it performs vital functions. We endorse the Defra Secretary of State’s vision for a world-class food and farming sector, a robust rural economy and an enhanced natural environment. Managing environmental and rural economy issues together can help deliver that vision but this, together with meeting the challenges of protecting the UK from natural hazards, requires adequate resources. Protecting the nation against, for example, flood and animal or plant diseases carries multi-million pound costs; the costs to the economy, society and the environment of not doing so may, however, be even greater. The challenges facing Defra are first whether the reduced budget available to it is sufficient for its task, and second how to make the correct policy choices so as to allocate smaller funds effectively.
We have so far received only the barest details of how Defra intends to provide services against budget cuts over this Parliament and on whether it can find all the necessary savings from administrative efficiencies or if it will also need to alter the services it delivers or how it charges for them. When these details become available in the New Year we will examine them closely. Defra will need to provide us with firm evidence of an effective plan for the future delivery of vital services for the environment, agriculture and rural communities. We look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Secretary of State, her ministerial team and officials.
Prepared 14 December 2015