I continue to wonder what the real story is behind the supposed 80% increase in HLS funding trumpeted on the day of the Comprehensive Spending Review announcements back in late October.
On that day Defra announced they would be “increasing the HLS scheme by 80%.”
During a Westminster Hall debate on 26th October (worth a look if only to see what strong emotions Natural England seems to have stimulated amongst some MPs) Minister Jim Paice, apart from actually defending NE, stated “Higher-level stewardship funding, which delivers significant benefits for biodiversity-everyone recognises that it is the most effective scheme-will increase by 83%, compared with this year, by 2013-14.” But then he went on to say that the rate of growth of HLS would now be slower than previously planned (that sounds like a cut to me).
Last week at Defra oral questions Secretary of State Caroline Spelman stated “We have ambitions to increase by about 80% the number of farmers in the higher-level stewardship scheme”. This is rather a different thing altogether. Firstly, the language is now about ambitions, rather than action, secondly the 80% is not about funding, but about numbers of farmers. It may have been a slip of the Secretary of State’s tongue – and she did mean funding after all. That would be useful to clear up. The change from “will” to “have ambitions to” sounds like it could be a weakening commitment.