Farm quangos face radical rationalisation, says Spelman

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has warned a radical rationalisation of farming quangos is necessary under the coalition government’s austerity drive.

The department has been named as the one likely to feel the biggest pinch, with its budget expected to be cut by one-third.

Mrs Spelman said efficiencies could be made by scrapping, merging and drastically trimming some of its 87 bodies.

But she warned some cuts were inappropriate elsewhere in the DEFRA budget as the department performed vital services as the government’s “emergency service”.

“Whether it’s flooding, whether it’s an animal health outbreak, whether it’s a radiological leak – God forbid, we don’t want that – or a chemical spill, DEFRA is the government’s emergency service,” Mrs Spelman told Sky News.

“That’s a very strong reason to fight my corner on the issue with the Treasury, but equally to accept as a cabinet minister with corporate responsibility that we have got to clean up the mess that Labour has just left.

“We have got to get to grips with the debt.”

Ms Spelman said cuts were necessary to some of DEFRA’s quangos to protect frontline services such as flood defence and animal health protection.

DEFRA funding did not have the protected status given to the NHS and overseas aid, or been partially shielded like defence and education.

But amid the gloom there was some good news for farmers. Ms Spelman said plans to roll out broadband in rural areas would help mitigate fuel costs.

“If you have access to the internet you don’t have to jump in your car so often to actually go and find the services or connect to the internet in the way that many people have to do,” she said.

Ministers across Whitehall have been told to draw up plans for budget cuts of up to 40% by Friday as part of the government’s drive to tackle the £155 billion deficit.

Chancellor George Osborne will announce the results in October.

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