We’re keeping a close eye on the Government’s spending plans including the latest round of departmental cuts outlined by Chancellor George Osborne yesterday which will total some £11.5bn for the financial year 2015-16.
Every government department – with the exceptions of International Development, Health and Education – took a cut, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) receiving a 10% reduction to its £1.9bn budget.
Defra has suffered swinging cuts in previous spending rounds, leaving the department operating with a budget significantly smaller than when the Coalition Government assumed power in 2010.
We recognise the very serious financial difficulties the country faces, and like most other organisations we accept the need to put the country’s finances back in order, including tackling the UK’s debt legacy.
But we’re concerned at the implications of the cuts upon key projects, most recently the England Coast Path, where recent comments by Environment Minister, Richard Benyon, suggest future funding is in doubt. We’ve prevailed upon him to reconfirm the government’s commitment to the coast path but so far he has yet to respond.
All this is happening against a backdrop of other issues which could have a profound impact upon our countryside. Yesterday also saw the announcement of an EU deal on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU-wide system of payments to farmers and land managers, and it is now for Defra ministers to decide how to spend millions of pounds of public money.
CAP reform is a fantastic opportunity to encourage better access to our countryside, boosting tourism and breathing life into ailing rural economies, as well as improving health and wellbeing, and we’re calling on Defra to ensure that this public money is used to the greatest public benefit.
And today Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced a £100bn package of investment designed to modernise the UK’s infrastructure. The plans include new homes, road expansion and support for controversial shale gas (‘fracking’) projects. All of this could have a huge impact upon the health, tranquillity and visual amenity of our countryside.
We’ll be following developments resulting from the Defra budget cuts, CAP reform and infrastructure investment plans closely. For the latest updates sign up to our news RSS feed or follow us on Twitter @RamblersGB.