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Defra told to prepare for 40% budget cut

Government departments looking after the environment, transport and local authorities have been asked to prepare for spending cuts of up to 40% over the next four years by the Chancellor

Government departments including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs been asked to prepare for spending cuts of up to 40% over the next four years as the government looks to slash public spending by £20 billion.

Chancellor George Osbourne is seeking to make deep cuts to Departmental budgets

Chancellor George Osbourne is seeking to make deep cuts to Departmental budgets

In a move which is feared could hit Defra’s future work on air quality, the Chancellor yesterday (July 21) launched a Spending Review calling for all departments which do not ha

ve protected budgets to model savings of 25% and 40% a year within their budgets by 2019/20.

The announcement could hit Defra particularly hard, as the Department has faced some of the deepest departmental cuts since 2010 and already scaled back its work in several areas alongside numerous job losses.

It also comes as the Department prepares a new UK air quality plan for public consultation later this summer to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits, while it is also engaged in discussions at EU level over a new package of air quality legislation.

A report by the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee published in March voiced concern that the “hollowing out of Defra has left the core Department less effective in persuading decision makers in other government departments and Brussels to follow its agendaâ€?.

Then-committee chair Anna McIntosh MP said the Department must “punch above its weight if it is to deliver cost-cutting aims for the environment, rural communities and British farming, at home and in Brusselsâ€?, adding that “we also need to know what the impact of cuts will be on policy deliveryâ€?.

Council services

Proposed budget cuts also affect other departments with environmental and air quality remits, including the Department for Transport (DfT), Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Another potential victim could be the Environment Agency, which is responsible for air quality regulation and assessment in local planning.

Responding to the Chancellor’s budget cuts announcement, the Local Government Association (LGA) – which represents 414 authorities in England and Wales – said councils had already made £20 billion in savings since 2010 and that for many councils there were “few efficiencies eft to be made and these alone will not be enough to cope with further funding reductionsâ€?.

Cllr Gary Porter, chairman of the LGA, said vital council services would “struggle to continue at current levelsâ€? amid a possible maximum 40% cut by 2020, which would equate to around £7 billion.

He said: “If our public services are to survive the next few years, we urgently need a radical shift in how public money is raised and spent, combined with proper devolution of decision-making over transport, housing, skills and social care to local areas.

“Fairer funding for local services, and the freedom to pay for them, will allow councils to tackle the big issues facing their residents and protect services which bind our communities together and protect our most vulnerable.â€?

Chancellor

Announcing his Spending Review, Chancellor George Osborne said: “This Spending Review is the next step in our plan to eliminate the deficit, run a surplus and ensure Britain lives within its means.

“We’ll invest in our priorities like the NHS and national security. Elsewhere in government, departments will have to find significant savings through efficiencies and by devolving power, so people have a greater say over the issues that affect them and their communities. We’ll deliver more with less.

The final outcome of the Spending Review will be published on November 25.

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