Floods not the only worry for Defra

tide Storm surges and high tides have caused flooding problems across the UK

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Given the furious storms and relentless flooding that Britain has endured over the past two months, it is little wonder that reports about MPs criticisms of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should focus on budget cuts and their impact on flood defences.

But the Departmental Annual Report 2012-13 covers much more than just soggy ground and surging tides, and it deserves some attention.

Secretary of State Owen Paterson has been in charge of Defra since September 2012 and with the ash dieback crisis, the horse meat saga, the badger cull and extreme weather, he has rarely been out of the headlines.

All these events have made running a department with a diminishing budget much more difficult.

But the MPs are worried that perhaps the limited money in hand is not being spent in the wisest manner.

They are worried that staff morale in Mr Paterson's department is well below the average for the civil service. They point to the fact that 25% of senior staff received performance related bonuses of between £10,000 and £12,000 last year.

"We are surprised, however, by the discrepancy between the amount of bonus paid to senior staff and that paid to more junior staff," the MPs write.

Many observers might be surprised that bonuses were being paid at all, given the cuts of £500m the department has been asked to make since 2010.

The MPs also look closely at a number of critical policy issues, including the controversial badger cull to curb bovine TB.

Cull questions continue

They are troubled by the fact that both trials carried out last year failed to reach the 70% reduction in badger numbers that was said to be needed to reduce incidence of TB.

pony Villages like Muchelney in Somerset, have been cut off for days

"We invite the Government to set out why the first year of the pilots failed to achieve the target figure in the allocated time," says the report.

They are also concerned about the accuracy of badger population estimates, which were twice substantially reduced.

"Repeated revision of those estimates undermines confidence in the process," the MPs write.

"The Government must demonstrate whether there is any evidence of badgers moving from the cull zones into neighbouring areas and thereby risking the spread of bovine TB."

The MPs are also cool on the idea of biodiversity offsetting, the controversial idea that damage to habitats caused by development can be mitigated by creating replacement habitats in other places.

They urge Mr Paterson to proceed cautiously.

"The Government has initiated six pilot offsetting projects and it is difficult to understand why it does not wish to assess these properly before embarking on a wider rollout."

But one area where they want the Secretary to speed up is plastic bags. The MPs are "disappointed" that a charge for single-use plastic carrier bags will not come into effect in England until 2015.

Introducing this more rapidly would be a "quick win" in the words of the committee.

Given the choppy waters in which he is presently sailing, perhaps Mr Paterson could do with one?

Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    At £4,000 a badger, couldn't we have just given them TB shots?

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    "The MPs should have demanded honest answers to why DEFRA authorised the badger cull in the first place."

    Because Owen Paterson when Shadow Agriculture Minister in 2003-05 campaigned hard for the dairy industry over bovine TB and it's unproven link to badgers (except in the eyes of farmers)

    Now in charge of Defra, it's payback time for the black and white faced buggers and hence the badger cull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Try 'Fracking' now.

  • Comment number 70.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 69.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    @62.Ray W
    " when sea levels drop then they rise in others."

    Nothing to do with gravity and isotacy then!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    They spent all that money on slaughtering badgers, yet they still have not said how many on the 1771 animals killed were actually infected with TB! Could this be because they were all healthy animals and the millions spent were a waste of money, just to placate the farmers? And if this is typical of the way DeFRA operate why are any receiving bonuses?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.


    You don't control disease by creating a situation to frighten diseased animals into flight spreading disease.

    Krebs & RBCT = "Political Science" by a Labour Vegan.

    Endorsing the death of millions of animals because of Labour Politics and "animal rights".

    IMHO you're not human.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Even to the most impartial minds observing the utter fiasco of the pilot badger culls, it is clear that Defra is, under Paterson's stewardship, making it up as it goes along. Science has been more than sidelined for the sake of political expediency, it's been stomped on and binned. The BBC can take some culpability in this process: it's failed to dig deep and report on this dismal scandal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    "the cull has cost the tax payer £4,000 per badger according to The League against Cruel Sports"

    If shooting badgers became an actual organised sporting event (cruel or otherwise), then people would pay to take part in it - thereby raising revenue for the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Paterson has done extremely well. After all, his remit was probably, cut the expenses and reduce the service'.
    Not 'your job is to make sure the environment is managed properly'. Which is what he should be doing.
    Great, another part of Gov, discredited which can soon be sold off cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Mother nature is fighting back to heal itself. The world is made up of different compounds, gases and liquids and have certain levels to maintain. When the snow and ice melts in one part of the world then it will set in another, when sea levels drop then they rise in others. It is basic science I expect our weather to get much worse over the tears.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Perhaps it's a cunning ploy to stem the floods with dead badgers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    The sudden massive increase in Antarctic ice, snow in Egypt in 2013, the "polar vortex" bringing record breaking cold temperatures to North America, all are proof of Global Warming. Keep sucking it up, suckers, Chicken Little is laughing all the way to the bank.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @45 no bleating about the cuts, just the media catching up on old news from months before and put two and two together. The public must decide what services it wants, whilst paying off a National debt it can't ever repay. Trouble is you only ever get a chance once in every five years to select those to carry this out. So, select wisely next time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Mr McGrath signally fails to mention the forthcoming CAP Reforms which will be "administered" (?) by DEFRA. Of course this matter will only affect farmers as Milk comes from bottles, Bread comes in loaves and Meat comes from the Supermarket as far as the BBC is concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    The cull has cost the tax payer £4,000 per badger according to The League against Cruel Sports. Need I say more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    It's demoralising to think that our finest schools & universities produce
    the incompetent useless upper-class twits that represent our government & civil service.
    Unfortunately the Economists & Engineers required etc. will never be allowed to hop on to the hereditary gravy train that is in fact British politics, so brace yourselves.......it's going to get much much worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Does anyone in Defra go and lift a sandbag? No. I applaud the cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "..25% of senior staff received performance related bonuses of between £10,000 and £12,000 last year.

    Many observers might be surprised that bonuses were being paid at all, given the cuts of £500m the department has been asked to make since 2010
    The only way the department can pay those obscene bonuses and cut expenditure is to sack more workers
    Paterson should be sacked, he's incompetent


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