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DEFRA and DECC to make spending cuts of over £240m

More than £240m of cuts will hit the Government’s two environmental departments, as announced by chief secretary to the Treasury David Laws this morning.

The Government has identified £6.25bn-worth of cuts in total, which will include a loss of £162m slashed from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) budget. The department saw cuts of £300m in 2008 following a series of expensive crises such as foot and mouth disease and overpayments to farmers.

According to a statement from Defra, such efficiency savings will include both the department itself and “arm’s length bodies”. It will include limiting recruitment and reducing the number of non-permanent staff, operational savings in IT, estates and procurement, a reduction in funding for regional development agencies and efficiencies in flood management while maintaining an increase in expenditure and savings within the delivery of selected programmes. Other departments to see cuts will include £85m from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) budget and £836m from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) policy director Danny Stevens said: “If there was a concern it would be with cuts to BIS as well as Defra. DECC looks to have escaped fairly unscathed, but the business department has a very important role in supporting environmental businesses, not only in low-carbon projects but across the industry.

“EIC obviously sees the environmental industry as a massive growth opportunity and it would be a shame now to scale back the progress that has been made.”

There will also be £1.165bn of savings made in local government by reducing grants to local authorities. The Government has also pledged to remove the ringfencing of around £1.7bn-worth of grants to local authorities in 2010-11.

Construction Products Association chief executive Michael Ankers said of today’s cuts: “It is critical that the Government [also] provides clarity on where potential spending cuts may occur, and ensures that spending cuts do not occur in those areas that are key to facilitating the economic recovery such as in transport infrastructure and energy supply.”

The coalition also promised to deliver cuts of £600m from Government quangos, which are thought to include the Sustainable Development Commission, worth an estimated £3m.

But there is now a concern that with “arm’s length bodies” also expected to represent budget cuts, the Environment Agency (EA) or the Waste & Resources Action Programme may also suffer.

An Environmental Services Association spokesman said: “The UK needs to develop significant waste and recycling infrastructure to meet its Landfill Directive obligations and it is imperative that any cuts do not undermine efforts to recover materials and energy from waste. The timely development of new infrastructure will ensure that the UK does not become liable for EU fines. In this context, the EA will need to retain funding for the processing of permits within the required time scales for new facilities.”

The spokesman added that the new Government has pledged that front-line services should not be affected by the proposed cuts, explaining: “We hope that this extends to ensuring that the EA remains adequately resourced for fighting environmental crime along with its other responsibilities.”

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