Government departments including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have today (July 21) been asked to prepare for spending cuts of up to 40% over the next four years as the government looks to slash spending in Whitehall by £20 billion.
In a move which is feared could hit Defra’s work on waste, the Chancellor has launched a Spending Review calling for all departments which do not have protected budgets to model savings of 25% and 40% a year within their resource budgets by 2019/20.
The move also affects other departments with environmental remits including the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The announcement could hit Defra particularly hard, as the Department has faced some of the deepest departmental cuts since 2010 and already scaled back its work in the waste arena and lost staff. Some in the sector have suggested that an obvious target for further cuts may be the Defra-funded resource efficiency body WRAP, which has already seen its budget slashed from £37.7 million in 2011 to £17.9 million in 2014.
Another potential victim could be the Environment Agency, which is responsible for waste regulation and, importantly, in cracking down on waste crime.
Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association, described the proposed cuts as “concerning” for the resources sector.
“This is a worry. You reach a point where how can you go further without a critical change to services? On the one hand we get asked about flat-lining recycling and what is coming from Europe, but at the same time they are shrinking our support services so it is hard to move forward.”
Mr Georgeson added that from a personal point of view he was concerned about colleagues at Defra who could subsequently lose their jobs: “Are there going to be enough critical mass of experienced officials left to help us find our way forward?”
On the subject of WRAP, Mr Georgeson noted that all the “outward signs” – in the body gaining charity status and seeking funding from external sources – indicated that the organisation, which unlike the EA has no statutory function, was preparing for further cuts.
Announcing his Spending Review, Chancellor George Osborne said: “This Spending Review is the next step in our plan to eliminate the deficit, run a surplus and ensure Britain lives within its means.
“We’ll invest in our priorities like the NHS and national security. Elsewhere in government, departments will have to find significant savings through efficiencies and by devolving power, so people have a greater say over the issues that affect them and their communities. We’ll deliver more with less.”
The final outcome of the Spending Review will be published on November 25.