The Chancellor announced the latest autumn statement and spending review on 25th November 2015. The government set out its plans to gradually diminish its deficit by cutting back on public expenditure. As far as the environment goes, it was stated that spending would be significantly cut, with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) budget due to contract by 15% over five years, and the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) budget due to be reduced by 22% over the same timeframe.
Flood risk management spending protected despite DEFRA cuts
Despite the sizable cuts to DEFRA’s budget, the government has been careful to protect spending on flood defences. The £2.3 billion six-year capital investment programme is to be maintained, comprising more than 1,500 schemes protecting 300,000 homes. However, since the recent floods in Cumbria questions have been asked about the quality of DEFRA’s flood defence schemes. The Environment secretary, Liz Truss, has formed a new working group to consider the scope for further flood prevention actions in Cumbria.
It is likely that climate change will lead to an increased amount of flooding in future years. Other trends, such as the loss of front gardens to hard car parking, have also led to increased flood risk in urban areas. Time will tell whether the flood defence expenditure will prove adequate to meet future challenges.
More Trees to be planted
The government stated that expenditure on public forests would be ‘safeguarded’. It plans to plant 11 million trees over the course of this parliament. The programme is currently starting with a scheme to provide 45,000 native British trees for schools. The scheme will initially involve 7,000 English primary schools, which will provided with trees by a partnership between the government and the Woodland Trust.
Landfill Communities Fund cash diverted to combat waste crime
The government has announced various changes to the Landfill Communities Fund, which funds various environmental and community bodies, including charities such as the RSPB, so that they can provide environmental and community projects. Currently, landfill operators have been able to offset 90% of donations to the community fund against landfill tax, as a tax credit. The remaining 10% has usually been covered by third party donations, but this will no longer be the case. From 1st April 2016, the landfill companies will have to pay this 10% themselves, adding to their costs. The total contributions by landfill companies to the Fund will be limited to 4.2% of their annual tax bill (currently 5.7%). Overall, the effect will be to decrease the amount of money available for the community and environmental projects.
The government has announced that £20 million from the landfill tax changes will be used by the Environment Agency over the next five years to tackle the increasing problem of waste crime.
Increased capital funding for DEFRA science
The November spending review includes a £130 million of capital spending for DEFRA’s science budget, covering buildings and equipment. It seems that the bulk of this funding will go towards work to deal with outbreaks of animal and plant disease. The recent arrival of ash dieback in the UK has been a reminder of how vulnerable our ecosystem can be to introduced diseases. Back in the 1970s, the appearance of much of the English countryside was transformed by Dutch elm disease, while animal diseases such as Foot-and-mouth have had a devastating impact on the farming industry in the past. Thus, despite tightening departmental budgets, the government seems to realise the importance of funding significant expenditure in this area.
Government website, ‘Spending Review and autumn statement 2015.’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015-documents
Edie website, ‘Autumn statement and spending review 2015’, (25th November 2015). http://www.edie.net/news/6/Autumn-Statement-Spending-Review-UK-energy-policy-2015/
Tran, M., ‘Cumbria floods group set up to consider strengthening defences’, The Guardian, 13th December 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/13/cumbria-floods-group-consider-defences-storm-desmond
DEFRA website, ‘Schoolchildren to help plant a million native British trees’, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schoolchildren-to-help-plant-a-million-native-british-trees
HMRC website. ‘Reform and value of the Landfill Communities Fund’, (9th December 2015). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reform-and-value-of-the-landfill-communities-fund/reform-and-value-of-the-landfill-communities-fund
Eminton, S. (Letsrecycle website), ‘Cost burden to hit landfill sector community projects’, (3rd December 2015). http://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/cost-burden-to-hit-landfill-sector-for-community-projects/