george osborne

Defra is one of four government departments to have reached a provisional agreement to cut spending by an average of 30% over the next four years, George Osborne has announced.

Speaking today (9 November), the chancellor said Defra, along with the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Treasury had all agreed to cut day-to-day spending.

Osborne is set to unveil the full details of the government’s comprehensive spending review on 25 November, and warned that despite cutting the country’s deficit by half since 2010 there was “still so much more to do – we are still spending too much”.

He added that the savings would be achieved “by a combination of further efficiencies in departments, closing low-value programmes, and focusing on our priorities as a country”, adding that the provisional settlements applied to the “day-to-day resource spending of the central departments – they are not the capital budgets of these departments”.

The announcement follows speculation over the long-term future of Defra, with Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Parminter suggesting in September that the latest round of government cuts could herald its abolition.

However, environment secretary Liz Truss last month played down fears over Defra’s future by telling the Commons Efra committee there was “a lot of opportunity to reform our organisation and deliver better services”, and “there are ways that we can make savings as a department”.

This could come from better use of technology, and by working together with other bodies such as the Environment Agency and Natural England.

“There is a big opportunity for us to put those back offices together and work more closely so we are delivering things better on the ground,” she said.

NFU president Meurig Raymond warned that any cuts to the Defra budget should not impact on its responsibilities for driving through its food and farming and other frontline strategies.

“Our priority is for farming businesses to be productive and profitable and we are concerned that cuts of up to 30% could damage frontline delivery services that underpin this aim,” he said.

“That is why we believe that Defra should first seek savings in back office functions rather than reducing spending on areas that are key to our members, such as animal health, flood protection and a fully functioning rural payments system.”