Defra’s budget reduction

13th November 2015 Posted by

The news that Defra is to face a budget reduction of 30 per cent over the next four years will not come as much of a surprise to most waste-watchers if that departmental cut is salami-sliced across to Rory Stewart’s waste and resources team. Given the low-key approach to waste management that Defra has taken over the past few years, as emphasized in the now-infamous “stepping back” letter of November 2013 from Dan Rogerson, expectations that Defra would crank up its direct involvement through proactive policy-making were not high.

In the face of this fait accompli the question facing the incumbent Minister and indeed the rest of the waste management sector is, where these cuts will fall.  Funding of programmes such as for waste prevention has already been scaled back or terminated. It is quite likely that ongoing funding of organisations such as WRAP and other charities will also be seen as discretionary and hence in line for the red pencil.

Beyond that, it is difficult to see where budgets could be slashed without impacting on departmental performance. Staff cuts would further weaken an already depleted department. Cascading the cuts down to the Environment Agency would be a move in the wrong direction. Cutting data gathering programmes (for example, for commercial and industrial waste) would be counterproductive and bad for policymaking. There could, however, be an attempt to move some of the burden of data gathering onto the sector itself – for example through edoc – and encourage more self-policing through accredited management systems. Reviewing and rationalising waste and resources duties currently shared between Defra, DCLG, DECC and BIS might also help reduce costs – akin to partnership working between local authorities.

In the next few months our sector needs to think through these issues, and present to the Minister a coherent programme we would like Defra to consider, detailing what exactly we want Defra to do with its remaining budget, that will give our sector the biggest bang for its bucks.

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