Sunday, 20 December 2015 23:07

MPs call for Defra budget cut plan

Written by  Ruralcity Media
MPs call for Defra budget cut plan

MPs have called on Defra to explain how it will deliver vital services in the face of budget cuts.

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee said the department should produce a plan showing how it would cope with a reduced budget over the next four years.

The call is made in an Efra committee report examining Defra's performance in 2014-15.

The report was published on Tuesday (15 December).

It follows last month's spending review which confirmed that Defra's administration budget will be reduced by over a quarter and its overall resource budgets by 15%.

"Defra's budget reduced by around a quarter in the previous Parliament and the department now faces a further 15% cut by 2020," said committee chairman Neil Parish MP.

"Savings have to be made, but the department must prioritise front-line work."

Mr Parish added: "We have asked the Secretary of State for a clear strategy outlining the impact of Spending Review cuts on vital services.

This included vital flood protection work, he said.

"We welcome Defra's commitment to a six-year capital flood defence programme and its pledge to protect maintenance funding for activities such as river dredging.

"This is prudent investment since flood damage may cost more to repair than to prevent. But the increasing risk of more extreme flood events will stretch these budgets thinly."

Defra's funding plan relies on the government securing £600m from external contributions – of which only £250m has so far been secured, with only £61m from the private sector.

Mr Parish said: "We are pleased that the Government is committed to a £2.3 billion programme for flood defences over this Parliament.

"But this relies heavily on investment from the private sector, which has not yet been guaranteed."

The committee also recommends a renewed focus on rural priorities such as the broadband infrastructure crucial to reducing the productivity gap between urban and rural areas.

"Businesses everywhere need fast broadband, but a lack of effective internet and mobile phone connectivity is hampering economic growth in some rural parts of the country.

"Defra must champion the needs of rural communities and businesses more vigorously.

"Any new Universal Service Obligation must deliver affordable connections at sufficient speeds to all areas of the country."

Defra is expected to respond to the committee's report later.

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