Thursday 25th February 2016
DEFRA’s Single Departmental Plan (the Plan) for 2015 to 2020 was published last week. Its overarching ambition is “to unleash the economic potential of food and farming, nature and the countryside, champion the environment and provide security against floods, animal and plant diseases and other hazards.” An admirable vision, and for the UK’s rural communities and businesses one we must hope that this sometimes overlooked Department can deliver.
Liz Truss and her fellow DEFRA ministers, George Eustice and Rory Stewart, will have a budget of £2 billion for 2015/16 to start delivering on this vision, which is comprised of six distinct objectives:
- A cleaner, healthier environment;
- A world leading food and farming industry;
- A thriving rural economy;
- A nation better protected against floods, animal and plant diseases, with strong response and recovery capabilities;
- Excellent delivery: on time, to budget and with outstanding value for money;
- Delivering efficiently.
Among the more eye-catching proposals in the Plan are two 25-year plans: one for the environment and the other for food. The first of these long term plans, which aims to “ensure the environment is appropriately maintained and improved”, will be published by the end of 2016. Measures in this plan include the planting of 11 million trees, spending £3 billion of CAP payments to enhance England’s countryside and a pledge to protect the Green Belt and other protective land designations.
The 25-year food plan’s central mission is to “grow more and sell more British food at home and abroad,” with a view to boosting the value of Britain’s food industry, which at £100 billion already represents 7 per cent of the total economy.
Farmers feature prominently in the Plan, with DEFRA making commitments to improving the administration of CAP payments, allowing farmers to ‘smooth’ their profits over a five-year period for tax purposes and championing the Groceries Code Adjudicator, to ensure farmers receive a fair deal from supermarkets.
After the carnage seen over winter and Christmas 2015, flooding is also prominent. DEFRA has committed itself in the Plan to spending £2.3 billion on coastal and flood defences by 2021 (which they point out is a real terms increase from the £1.7 billion spent in 2010 – 2015). A National Flood Resilience Review will also be launched to examine a longer term, strategic way to deal with flooding in the future.
Improvements to rural infrastructure are always welcome, and the Plan makes various commitments on this front, both to modern and more traditional infrastructure. For example, the Plan reaffirms the Government’s commitment to delivering superfast broadband (at least 24 Mbps) to 95 per cent of UK households and businesses by 2017. On physical infrastructure, the Plan highlights Government (Department for Transport) projects, such as the £15 billion Road Investment Strategy and a £38 billion rail investment programme.
For a more complete breakdown of each of six the sections, please click here.