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£800m Defra cuts threaten ability to handle emergencies

Defra's budget has been chopped by £500 million since 2010

Deep budget cuts at the environment department (Defra) could leave it struggling to handle national emergencies such as the current wave of flooding, MPs warned yesterday.

Defra's budget has been chopped by £500 million since 2010 and has been told to slash another £300m over the next two years.

Parliament's environment, food and rural affairs committee said Defra should be protected so it can properly respond to crises such as flooding, the horse-meat scandal and the ash dieback tree disease.

Despite government plans to spend £370m on new flood defences by 2016, 1,500 jobs will go at the Defra-funding Environment Agency this year.

Committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh said: "Defra is a small ministry facing massive budget cuts and which relies on a large number of arm's-length bodies."

She urged ministers to explain how the extra £300m cut will affect the work of those agencies.

"Recent flooding events over the Christmas and New Year period reinforce the committee's concerns about cuts to the Defra budget and how these will be realised."

MPs said that Defra will also have to deal with extra work this year - including the badger cull, plastic bag charges and genetically modified food.

They demanded that Environment Secretary Owen Paterson set out which programmes will lose large chunks of their budgets.

And the MPs told Mr Paterson not to rush ahead with his plan for "biodiversity offsetting" - letting developers cut down ancient woodlands if they plant trees elsewhere - until there has been an independent assessment of pilot schemes.


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