There was an article by Peter Hetherington in the Guardian today showing that the way Defra spends its money does more damage than that. Coastal defence, research grants and much else are being cut so that money can go to agriculture:
For Neil Ward, a government adviser and director of Newcastle University's centre for rural economy, the financial crisis underlines the continuing dominance of agriculture in a department that is meant to focus on the wider countryside economy.
The department, he recalls, was formed to "break with the past" and address a wider rural agenda on the back of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, which cost the taxpayer at least £2bn. In reality, however, Ward says the non-farming rural economy is still being marginalised, with farming taking the bulk of Defra's budget, despite the fact that 26,000 agricultural jobs disappeared between 1998 and 2002 alone, with 270,000 new jobs being created in non-farming rural enterprises.
"Agriculture is now recapturing some of the money that should be going to other rural interests," Ward complains. "It is still a very well protected industry, and although farmers complain, they are helped considerably when, arguably, the village post office is not."
In the next financial year, farming support is projected by Defra to cost almost £2.8bn directly - by far the largest slice of its budget - with "rural affairs and natural resources" getting just £488,000.