The Welsh government’s £33m cut in funding for its rural affairs department is a “sledgehammer blow” for farming, according to the Tory party in Wales.
Overall the £33m equates to a 7.5% cut to the Natural Resources Wales’ annual budget. But within the detailed spending plan it shows that agriculture and food spending will be hit even harder with a year on year cut of 17.8% while funding for animal health and welfare will be reduced by 20.7%.
The cuts were set out in the Welsh government’s draft budget for 2015-16 during a speech by finance minister Jane Hutt on 30 September.
The £33m drop is the biggest hit borne by any department in the Welsh government and is a move by Labour to help plug a £225m black hole in health funding.
The budget was supported in the Senedd by the Liberal Democrats after a deal was struck between the two parties.
But Welsh Conservative shadow minister for rural affairs, Russell George AM, said: “Farmers will be forgiven for thinking they are in Labour’s firing line again.
“Already hit hard by the maximum transfer of payments [15%] from Pillar 1 to 2 – the largest in the UK – they will rightly be worried by Labour’s draft budget.”
Mr George added: “These cuts have the potential to sledgehammer rural communities right across Wales.
“Labour’s first minister Carwyn Jones must set out – in detail – how he intends to mitigate the effects of his draft budget and provide a guarantee that our rural areas will not be left to suffer.
“Our farmers – our food industry – our rural communities; they all deserve the utmost Welsh government support.
“This Labour-Liberal budget must not put that in jeopardy.”
A Welsh government spokesperson said the Welsh budget had faced unprecedented cuts by the UK government and as a result the 2015-16 budget in Wales would be £1.5bn lower in real terms compared to 2010-11, which meant “difficult decisions” had to be taken to protect services.
But they reassured the impact on farming services would be minimal, adding: “We remain committed to supporting our rural communities through various programmes, including delivering the largest and most ambitious RDP in Wales’ history, which will help support vibrant and successful rural businesses and communities, and a thriving natural environment.
“The draft budget for Natural Resources Wales in 2015-16 has been set to take account of the need to find efficiency savings while also ensuring as far as possible that programmes to support the most vulnerable are protected and that the impact on front-line services is minimised.”