Environment ministers pressed on cuts

Author: By Trevor Mason, Press Association

Shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert twice challenged junior environment
minister Dan Norris at question time.

But the minister declined to give a direct answer, saying only that the
Government was looking carefully to deliver efficiency and value for money.

Mr Herbert said: “It appears the recession is already taking its toll on
Defra, which has had its budget cut by £200 million since the Pre-Budget
Report.

“Will you confirm to rural communities that Defra’s budget is frozen for
the next three years – what the Prime Minister calls a zero per cent rise –
which means in real terms it will be cut?”

Mr Norris told him: “The figures are published and you are capable of
accessing that information and reading them for yourself.”

Mr Herbert asked why the minister wouldn’t have the courage to at least repeat
what “the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) admitted on Any Questions
last week that the Defra budget is ‘going to be less’.

“Rural communities are being hit hard in this recession and want the
truth about what lies ahead.

“Because of rising unemployment and debt interest the Government’s own
plans show spending cuts of at least 7% in every department.

“Why won’t you be straight and admit that Defra is already cutting and,
because of this Government’s mismanagement of the economy, it’s going to
have to cut spending even more.”

Mr Norris told him: “I’m not going to take any lessons from you about
this.

“Let’s be clear, if you were in government now, you would be cutting the
figures immediately.

“We are looking to take in mind efficiency because it’s very important
that we deliver value for money.”

Earlier Tory Michael Jack (Fylde), environment select committee chairman,
asked Environment Minister Jim Fitzpatrick what cuts in services would flow
from Mr Benn’s admission that from 2011 the size of his budget would be
reduced.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the Department continuously reviewed its budget and looked
to be as efficient as possible.

“There is no threat from the statement Mr Benn (made). We will continue to
examine our budget and make sure the Department runs as efficiently as
possible.”

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