Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cutbacks at Defra as environment high on agenda

Defra, the government department responsible for farming, rural affairs, waste, pollution, and climate change, is planning to cut its budget by £300m, at a time when several important pieces of legislation - notably the Climate Change Bill - is going through Parliament.

The Guardian reports today that "frontline agencies tackling recycling, nature protection, energy saving, carbon emissions and safeguarding the environment are all being targeted in the package which is being drawn up by Helen Ghosh, Defra's top civil servant."

Defra cocked up its compensation payments to farmers and lost £200m in the last year, and recent flooding and farm animal disease crises have dented its budget more, while the Treasury is denying more funds.

The many agencies funded by Defra will have to tighten their belts, except for flood prevention, and Tom Oliver of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the cuts questioned the government's credibility in its attitude to the environment.

The Defra-branded magazine I write for is being cancelled at the end of the financial year. This sends out valuable sustainable resource and energy management support and information to large companies, local authorities, smaller businesses, CEOs and Technical Staff, particularly from Defra's agencies, but also from many other sources.

I had an editorial meeting at Defra on Thursday at which the news was broken as the Policy Chief responsible for it, Charles Harkness, is simultaneously retiring.

There are no plans to replace it. The reason given for cancellation was "to re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of our channels of comunication with stakeholders".

At a time when concern for the environment is at an all-time high this is an odd decision.

Ten Alps, owned by Bob Geldof, publishes the magazine through its contract magazine publishing business.

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