Saturday, 29 May 2010

Minister says £6 billion cuts are "peanuts" compared to what's coming

The £6 billion of cuts announced this week is “peanuts” compared to the budget bloodbath expected in the autumn, farming minister Jim Paice warns today.

In the Saturday Interview, Mr Paice admits he has no “wadge of money” to spend on new projects as the belt-tightening begins.

On Monday, Chancellor George Osborne announced cuts to all government departments. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was told to find £162 million, the equivalent of 5.3 per cent of its total budget.

Mr Paice told the Western Morning News it was “very tough” to find the savings, but hopes that this first round of cuts can fall on “backroom” costs while protecting frontline services.

But the comprehensive spending review, planned for the autumn, is likely to involved far greater reductions as the Treasury moves to tackle the £150 billion deficit.

Mr Paice said: “This £6 billion is peanuts compared to what we are going to have to do over the next three years as we move into the comprehensive spending review. That’s where all departments, not just Defra, are going to start saying there are some things which we currently do which we will have to stop doing.”

Quangos like Natural England and the Environment Agency will be told to stop some of their work altogether, while Defra itself prepares to abandon some of its output.

“You’ve going to have to take out whole heads of expenditure.”

Mr Paice insists farming is his priority, as he sets out a “clear direction” for officials at the department which was heavily criticised by the Tories in opposition.

Key issues high on his agenda include planning for a cull of badgers, clamping down on unclear food labelling, cutting red tape and demanding Whitehall buys British food.

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