Concerns over Defra's ability to respond to emergencies amid cuts

Sweeoping cuts to Defra's budget has raised fears about its ability to deal with flooding Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

MPs have raised serious concerns about the resources at the government department in charge of countering the threat from flooding.

In percentage terms, the budget for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has suffered one of the largest spending cuts of any Whitehall department.

It has already had £500 million taken from its spending total and the £2.5 billion budget will fall by another £300 million by 2015-16.

Since the election, DEFRA's budget has been cut by more than one third and this is the department which has had to deal with floods, the horse meat scandal, the cull of badgers and the ash dieback disease.

MPs on the Commons Environment Committee have warned that the smaller budget must not impede the department's ability to respond to emergencies.

The lion's share of Defra's £2.2 billion of funds is spent by arm's-length bodies like the Environment Agency - which over the Christmas holidays has been stretched to the limit by flooding in the South and West of England.

Last week, unions told us the Agency was facing "unprecedented cuts" which has forced managers to announce they are reducing the workforce by 1,550 posts (around 14%).

It raises questions about the ability of those fewer staff to cope if there was another incident of major flooding similar to the floods of the last few weeks.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson insists spending on flood defences is increasing Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Labour claims the budget for maintaining flood defences in England has dropped by £100 million since the election.

Experts have told ITV News that even new flood defences require maintenance to ensure they still work effectively.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson points to different figures.

He says capital spending on flood defences is higher in this government than any which came before.

And after falling for the first two years of the coalition, capital spending in Defra is once again being increased.

At £370 million, spending on new flood defences in the year 2015-16 will be higher than previously and the money has also been ring-fenced.

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The Prime Minister has claimed spending on new flood defences over the next four years will total £2.3 billion - higher than the total in the previous four years.

The committee of MPs has demanded much more clarity from the Environment Secretary on where the axe will have to fall and which services Defra will no longer be able to provide.

It will cause alarm for anyone who is mopping up after floods while the rain, like the government cuts, continues to fall.