20 December 1996

Ministry staff vent anger at cuts in budget

BUDGET cuts and a reduction in MAFF staff could lead to payment delays and the imposition of fines by the European Commission.

Unions representing MAFF staff reacted furiously to a 7% cut, announced by permanent secretary Richard Packer, in the ministrys baseline costs.

David Luxton, of the Institution of Professional, Managers and Specialists, called the cuts short-sighted and counter-productive, claiming that they came on top of a 10% staff reduction in 1996/7 and a 25% cut in the number of senior policy advisers in MAFF.

Mr Luxton warned that over-burdened staff would not be able to cope and predicted delays in grants for farmers. "Earlier this year, MAFF was fined a total of £49m by the European Commission for delays in payment to farmers of arable crop subsidies.

"The delays were directly attributable to resource problems in the MAFF regional service centres. It is penny wise and pound foolish to continue to impose further cuts on the centres and across the rest of MAFF."

And he stressed that in 1995 a Treasury review had concluded that there was no identifiable areas within MAFF where cuts could be made. &#42