DEFRA and Local Authorities have been hit by further cuts following the comprehensive spending review. The news is of concern to the BMC which fears public access to, and enjoyment of, the countryside will be less of a Government priority.
The Spending Review comes at a time when the State is spending significantly more money than it raises in taxation and is having to meet the deficit. Yesterday, spending plans were set out for the next four years until 2014-15. The scale of the deficit has required Government to make tough choices about how taxpayers’ money is allocated – although there was little detail about precisely how these cuts will affect the countryside, with Government only revealing that it would continue to focus on priority areas such as protecting biodiversity and improving flood protection.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) settlement for example, includes:
- continued investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management, with £2billion being spent in total over the Spending Review period;
- overall resource savings of 29 per cent in real terms by 2014-15, through reducing the number of Arms Length Bodies from 92 to 39 and focusing spending on key priorities; and
- environmental stewardship schemes which will deliver savings of £66 million a year by 2014-15, but will remain open to all farmers in England.
Local authorities, which are responsible for the countryside’s rights of way network will also see their central government grant reduced by 27 per cent.
DEFRA has already announced cuts to the number of Arms Length Bodies it funds from 92 to 39, increasing transparency and creating savings. Overall the Department will reduce its running costs by £174 million over the Spending Review period.
DEFRA will reprioritise its spending, focusing tax payers’ money on British farming and food production; enhancing the environment and biodiversity; and supporting a green economy resilient to climate change. DEFRA will also focus on schemes that will be most beneficial to the environment, increasing the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme by 80%.
DEFRA’s £3bn annual spend will diminish to around £2.2bn by 2014-15, with cuts expected to fall hardest on its administrative costs. Redundancies are expected across DEFRA and its related agencies with up to 8,000 jobs scheduled to go.
Both the Environment Agency and Natural England have been instructed to forge closer ties with other bodies to prevent duplication of work, while some activities deemed outside of the remit of government will be halted along with all policy making and lobbying activities.
The review yesterday is of concern to the BMC. Financial cut backs should not mean that statutory bodies such as DEFRA and Natural England as well as the National Parks solely focus on their ‘priority areas’ of biodiversity, farming and enhancement etc. The BMC fears that other statutory purposes which encompass people, recreation and engagement, which are equally important, may lose out. Local economies depend upon the local footpath network, access, recreation, education and information to survive. Cuts to DEFRA and local authority budgets will mean that footpaths and popular tourist routes may fall into disrepair. An announcement has already been made to say that the re-mapping of open access land will be put back by another 2 years (now planned to start in 2012) and there are concerns that the implementation of the coastal access rights will take longer then the envisaged 10 years.
BMC members can be reassured that the BMC recently met with officials from the DEFRA to discuss a number of issues including coastal access, CRoW Act mapping, National Park asset management, and quarry restoration. It was an opportunity to talk directly to Richard Benyon MP, Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, to raise concerns about the possible impact of cuts in expenditure, and to encourage support for recreation in the countryside. We will continue to raise these important issues with MPs over the coming months.
On a more positive note, the BMC’s Sport England grant is secure until the end of the current 4 year cycle (i.e. March 2013); this is because the bulk of it is derived from the National Lottery rather than the Exchequer.
There will be a 40% cut in ‘captial’ funding across Sport England and the 46 National Governing Bodies it funds. However, the BMC only receives a small amount of capital funding so any impact will be relatively small.
There will be an overall reduction of 15% in Sport England funding available to NGBs in the next funding cycle (2013-17); applications for this funding will be assessed on merit and in light of the performance of individual NGBs during this current cycle.
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