Wave of Defra cuts will hit flood defences

Defra has been told it must cut its planned expenditure over the next six months by £200m after being caught short by the spiralling costs of implementing the new farm payment system and keeping bird flu at bay.

The cuts will see the department tighten its own belt and Whitehall jobs will have to be axed.

But the slashed funding will also impact on public bodies backed by Defra such as the Environment Agency and the Countryside Agency.

The EA is expecting to absorb budget cuts of almost £15m from its flood defence programme and £9 million for environmental protection.

A spokesman from Defra confirmed the cuts would have to be made and said every effort was being made to keep the impact to a minimum.

“There are budgetary pressures and we have to review spending on a regular basis to make sure the public money we do spend is spent in the most effective way,” he told edie.

“The bottom line is we’re doing our utmost to avoid cuts that will jeopardise important environmental projects.

He said the department had written to all of its delivery bodies to inform them of the situation and added that Defra’s own budgets would also be rigorously scrutinised.

Ministers are expected to make detailed announcements of where the axe will fall next month.

In terms of flood protection the spokesman gave assurances that there would be no cuts to capital expenditure so new projects would go ahead as planned.

But money would have to come out of the ‘resource budget’ which covers maintenance and repairs of existing defences with an inevitable scaling down of such programmes.

Other organisations hit by the spending cut include the fledgling Natural England conservation body which is to replace the Countryside Agency in October, sparking fear it could struggle to launch as planned.

The shortfall has been blamed on the expense of protecting the UK from avian flu, estimated to have cost in the region of £50m, and an unexpectedly high take up for the new farm payment scheme.

More than double the number of farmers registered as had done so under the previous scheme, putting a strain on both finances and the infrastructure designed to administer the scheme.

Sam Bond

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