Opinion Former Article

Countryside Alliance: Countryside pays twice for Defra incompetence

A new report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has revealed a 'double whammy' for the countryside. Farmers suffered directly from the Rural Payments Agency fiasco and now funding across the rural sector is being cut to pay for Defra's incompetence.

The Committee report on 'The Rural Payments Agency and the implementation of the Singe Payments Scheme' found that the cost includes up to £305 million in fines from Europe, £156 million on "fixing" the failures at the Rural Payments Agency and £21 million in interest payments to farmers last year alone.

Meanwhile, Defra has cut funding for valuable environmental projects as diverse as the new higher level stewardship schemes, maintenance of waterways, water quality improvement, flood defences and bat conservation. Budget cuts for 2006/07 include:

Natural England - £12.9m

Food From Britain - £403,000

Environment Agency- £23.7m

National Forestry Company - £300,000

Marine Fisheries Agency - £1.7m

British Waterways - £3.9m

State Veterinary Service - £3m

Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "It is simply not acceptable that the countryside is expected to pay twice for the incompetence of Defra.

"The Government says it is tackling climate change, yet it is cutting flood defence spending. It publishes a Marine Bill and cuts Marine Fisheries Agency funding. It talks green and cuts Natural England funding. It cuts the State Veterinary Service budget in the face of Avian Flu.

"The Secretary of State David Miliband must urgently raise the cost of his predecessor's incompetence with the Treasury. Gordon Brown cannot allow the countryside alone to pay the price for this fiasco."

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