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 Labour claims scrapping badger cull would save £122m

THE Labour Party has claimed it would make savings of £122.5 million over the course of the next Parliamet by scrapping the current Government’s badger cull policy.

12 March 2015 | By Alistair Driver

The claim is made in a document published by the Party today (March 12) that sets out how it will make £192m of savings in Defra’s budget as part of its plan to cut the deficit every year and balance the books ‘as soon as possible in the next Parliament’.

Labour claims it would save £122.5m by scrapping the badger cull

The bulk of that saving comes from getting rid of what Labour describes as the ‘inhumane and ineffective badger culls’ but there are also plans for fuller cost recovery from regulatory agencies like Natural England and increased environmental protection and abstraction charges.

The document, published by Chris Leslie, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Shadow Defra, Secretary Maria Eagle, makes a number of assumptions in reaching its headline figure of £24.5m a year in savings from scrapping the badger culls. These are certain to be robustly challenged by the Conservative Party and the farming industry.

It assumes badger culling would have no effect in reducing TB levels in cattle and therefore the other costs of controlling it, such as compensation and testing.

Huge cost

The document refers to the conclusion of the 2006 Randomised Badger Culling Trial report, which concluded that badger culling makes ‘no meaningful contribution to eradicating TB’, while small-scale localised culling could make matters worse.

As well as failing to meet targets for humaneness and effectiveness the document said the pilot culls have come at a ‘huge cost’ to the taxpayer. It noted Defra spent £6.3m on the two pilots last year plus £3.5m in police costs, as well as incurring ‘substantial legal costs’ in defending the policy, and concludes the culls have cost the taxpayer nearly £4,000 per badger.

Even though a new Government would face a battle against time to licence any new areas this year following the May election, Labour said it was a ‘reasonable assumption based on recent Government rhetoric’ that a Conservative-led Government would roll the policy out to 10 new areas.

It reaches the final figure by extrapolating some of the costs of the pilots to these new areas. Even if the Government were able to halve the cost for each cull area Labour calculates cancelling the culls would make savings of £24.5 a year and £122.5 over the course of the Parliament, the document concluded.

Labour has pledged to scrap the pilot badger culls half way through their four-year licence periods if it comes into power in May. It said it would delpoy cattle measures and vaccination to combat the disease, although there is no reference to the cost of vaccination in the document.

Defra Ministers clashed with their Labour counterparts over the badger cull during Defra questions in the House of Commons today.

Farming Minister George Eustice said the Government belived it was ‘not possible to eradicate this disease without tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population’ and accused Labour of ignoring the advice of Defra’s chief vet on the policy.

Asked by Shadow Defra Minister Huw Irranca-Davies about how much future badger culls were expected to cost, he said the first year of the cull ‘clearly had elements of analysis, post mortem, research and policing that will not be present when we roll it out more widely’.

Other savings identified in Labour’s ‘Zero-Based Review (ZBR)

  • In the region of £40 million in the next parliament by establishing strategies for increasing the income of Defra’s arms-length bodies, including moves towards fuller cost recovery at Natural England.
  • Reviewing the cost of other Defra agencies as part of a plan to get a better deal for taxpayers and raise the proportion of regulatory costs which are recovered from the industries under supervision.
  • Increase by £2m year the income from environmental protection and abstraction charges saving £10 m in the next parliament.
  • Take preventative measures to improve water quality by supporting best practice in the farming and water industries and saving £4 million a year and £20 million in the next parliament in environmental protection spending. This involves freeing up £150m for spending on environmental protection and rural development in 2018-20 by re-allocating payments made under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Ms Eagle said: “Millions of pounds have been wasted on a badger cull which experts advise will make no meaningful contribution to eradicating bovine TB. 

Maria Eagle

Maria Eagle

“This Tory-led Government never should have pressed ahead with these ineffective and inhumane badger culls when they knew from the start that this policy had the potential to make the problem of bovine TB worse.

“Instead of ignoring the overwhelming evidence the Government must work with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of Bovine TB under control.”

Mr Leslie said: “This document shows that Labour is taking tough decisions when it comes to finding savings.

“It will help us protect and enhance the natural environment and deliver on Labour’s priorities for Defra by managing the departmental budget more effectively and ensuring we get the best value for the money we spend, whilst getting the deficit down.”

The ZBR was launched by Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls last year.

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