Spending Review 2015: What does it mean for the countryside?

Earlier this week, chancellor George Osborne, unveiled the government's Autumn Statement and Spending Review 2015; here's our round-up of the key policies that will impact those who live and work in the countryside - and those who visit it. 

 

George Osborne, U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, holds the dispatch box containing the budget, as he exits 11 Downing Street in London, U.K., on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Osborne is set to unveil sweeping education reforms in his Budget on Wednesday as he seeks to sweeten the pill of austerity three months before the referendum on European Union membership. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Environment

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  • The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) budget is to be cut by 15 per cent.
  • Protection of more than £350m funding for public forests, with eleven million trees planted in the UK’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • National Parks will be given legal flexibilities to allow them to build sustainable, long-term revenue streams and boost growth in rural areas.

Farming

  • £3bn investment will be provided for the Common Agricultural Policy, which the government says will safeguard Britain’s countryside.
  • Defra will set up a Single Farm Inspection Taskforce to reduce the burden on farmers, aiming to cut farm inspections by 20,000 by 2019-20.

Second homes

  • The government plans to raise an extra £1bn a year from a new 3 per cent stamp duty charge on buy-to-let properties and second homes.

Transport

  • The budget of the Department for Transport, a key concern for many rural people who pay a higher proportion of their income on travel costs is to be cut by 37 per cent.

Education

  • An overhaul of school funding is to be carried out to reduce regional variations of funds per pupil through a new national funding formula, which the government says will address an imbalance between urban and rural schools, which generally receive lower funding. The ‘sparsity sum’, a minimum funding level for small schools that is essential for serving rural areas is expected to continue.

Flooding

  • Better protection for flooding for 300,000 homes, with £2.3bn available for 1,500 flood defence schemes.
  • The Environment Agency is expected to generate 10 per cent efficiencies.

Bovine TB

  • £130m investment in Defra’s science estates.  The government will continue to invest in its 25 year strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.

Council funding

  • The central grant to local authorities is to fall by 56 per cent, though Osborne says this will be offset by other changes to local funding, including the ability to retain business rates to spend on local services.
  • The overall funding to local authorities is predicted to fall by 6.7 per cent. Rural MPs and local authorities argue rural residents pay more, receive fewer services and, on average, earn less than those in urban areas: they want the government to ensure rural communities receive fairer funding for public services.

Reaction from the sector:

  • Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss said: “This strong funding settlement means we can press ahead with our vital work to protect the country from floods and animal and plant disease, and put in place stronger protections for our natural landscape”
  • National Farmers Union (NFU) Chief Economic Adviser Gail Soutar said: “It is reassuring that the flood defence budget will be ring-fenced and the government will prioritise spending on animal and plant disease prevention. We are pleased that that tax credits would not be cut as this will help many farming families who are experiencing falling incomes. We are disappointed that there was no mention of how farmers will benefit from improved broadband facilities.” 
  • Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority said: “The announcement that National Park budgets are to be protected for the next five years is excellent news. We are small bodies but do an important job.”
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  • Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation said: “Although these cuts are smaller than feared it remains clear that there is a growing gap between the government’s stated ambition to restore nature in a generation and its capacity to do so.  Today’s announcement creates greater uncertainty for wildlife.”