By Claire West
The government's claim to be the "greenest ever" has been dealt a severe blow, as staff in an agency tasked with improving the rural environment have been served with compulsory redundancy notices.
Thirty nine of the staff at the Commission for Rural Communities have been told they will be leaving on 31 March and more will follow between March and August, meaning the organisation will go from having 85 staff in June 2010 to just three.
The commission’s budget was cut by 93.5% from £6.94 million in 2009/10 to £450,000 for 2011/12.
The cuts will be damaging to rural economies and could leave the commission unable to carry out its statutory functions before it is formally abolished next year, the union says.
The news comes as the union is considering holding a ballot for national industrial action over cuts to jobs and pensions, and talking to other unions about co-ordinated action.
The commission was set up by an act of parliament in 2005 to work with government departments and other public bodies to tackle social exclusion and disadvantage in rural communities, by improving services; access, such as broadband internet; and transport, as well as promoting sustainable development. It can only be abolished by further legislation.
The union said it was perverse that the Tory-led government is choosing to abolish the commission and England’s nine regional development agencies - bodies which deliver essential work to support and improve the lives of those living in rural communities.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "One minute the government boasts about its commitment to 'localism', and the next it scraps the very organisations that champion our local communities.
"The idea that you can centralise these functions in the 'rural idyll' of Whitehall would be laughable if it didn’t have such devastating consequences for people’s livelihoods and our rural economies."