Treasury orders DEFRA to find ‘radical options’ for slashing budget

The chancellor Sajid Javid has called on ministers to shrink their departments’ budgets for their day-to-day operations by 5% in the run up to this autumn’s comprehensive spending review.

According to a letter signed by prime minister Boris Johnson and the chancellor, obtained by Sky News and the Sun, cabinet ministers have been told to find “radical options" to meet the savings and identify at least 10 projects in each department that could be scrapped.

The letter, published yesterday, states: “We have been elected with a clear fiscal mandate to keep control of day-to-day spending. This means there will need to be savings made across government to free up money to invest in our priorities.” 

This is expected to free up tens of billions of pounds to meet Johnson’s three election manifesto priorities: strengthening the NHS with a £33.9 billion boost, putting 20,000 more police on the streets and “levelling up” underperforming regions.

DEFRA has repeatedly had its budget cut over the past 15 years with core staff across the department – including in the Environment Agency and Natural England – slashed by at least two thirds since 2005. Between 2016 and 2020, DEFRA’s resource budget was axed by 15% in real terms and its administrative budget dropped by 26% over the same period. 

The letter will be unwelcome news for Natural England chair Tony Juniper who late last year called on DEFRA to free up an extra £140m for the regulator to allow it fulfil its statutory duties and deliver on the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan.

Aspects of the 25-year plan have been supported by the Environment Bill, which was published today.

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