Concern over environment budget cuts and minister's climate change skepticism
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With the relentless storms that have battered the UK in recent weeks fresh in the minds of so many, questions are being asked about how cuts to the environment department’s budget will affect future emergency relief projects.
With so many houses left flooded or without power in recent weeks and every indicator suggesting that winters are to be characterised by more and more extreme weather, attention has turned to the fact that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) budget has been cut by £500m since 2010 and is set to lose a further £300m by 2016.
Owen Patterson, perhaps the most environmentally comatose minister ever to hold the post is a notorious sceptic about the science of climate change. Shadow Environment Secretary, Maria Eagle acerbically noted
“The question is whether Owen Paterson's climate change scepticism — remember, he said that Britain would benefit from climate change — has blinded him to concerns of increasing risk of flooding, and therefore he hasn't protected budgets like he might.”
A source close to Mr Patterson declared themself outraged by any such suggestion, referring to Ms Eagle’s suggestion as ‘nonsense’ and a ‘cheap trick’
However Efra Select Committee chairwoman and Conservative MP Ann McIntosh waded into the debate: "Ministers must clarify how further budget cuts of [more than] £300m over the coming two years will impact on the funding provided to these agencies and the ability of the department to respond to emergencies."
This comes just days after the Environment Agency announced that it was going to cut about 1,500 jobs by October. With reports that 500 of the possible redundancies would be within the agency's flood prevention and protection teams, the Prospect union issued a warning to the government
Prospect deputy secretary general Leslie Manasseh said: "They need to learn the lessons of the experiences of this winter, which have had such a devastating impact on so many people."