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Jim Paice to Mrs Beckett on RPA April 3 2006

Jim Paice has written to Margaret Beckett suggesting practical measures to ease the financial pressure on farmers still awaiting their Single Farm Payment.

  Dear Margaret,

Rural Payments Agency

I am writing following the further information on the current situation given on 29 March by both Ben Bradshaw and Elliot Morley in different debates. The information is welcome especially the introduction of a tolerance for mapping errors.As we both agree the primary aim must be to get the payments made and it is in that vein that I suggest the following actions.

Firstly, given the changes which have been introduced, it should be possible to give a clear indication of when payments will be completed. I accept your reluctance given recent history however it is the uncertainty which is causing the biggest difficulty to farmers. If you cannot commit to completion any earlier than the end of the payment window then that should be made clear with the advice that farmers should work on that assumption.

Secondly, if the majority of payments are not going to be completed by the end of April you really must make an interim payment, or even just offer one for those who wish to apply. It should be possible to advertise that the option of say a 75% interim payment is available on the understanding that those individuals who ask for it may not get the remainder until after June. You could introduce a minimum of say £5000 to prevent the minor claimants swamping the system. This proposal would help those in most hardship.

Thirdly is the question of interest. You have stated that if payments are completed by the end of June interest does not arise. That may be the legal situation but it is certainly not the moral one. Most farmers have had no payments since October/ November 2004, they were originally told the SFP would be paid in December 2005, then February, then March and now probably June. In the meantime the Government has benefited from not having to pay out the money. I suggest that there is a considerable moral obligation to pay interest especially when compared to the high penalties imposed by the Government for late payment of tax etc.

Fourthly I am concerned that no Minister has yet answered the question about non-validated entitlements. Will you please explain urgently whether the many thousands of farmers with such letters will be paid or whether they have to wait until the entitlement is validated; in which case when will that be?

Finally may I turn to the issue of 2006 claims? I asked you on 27 March whether you would delay the May 16th date for claims. I know that a senior official has been appointed to oversee these claims but I make two points to you: firstly the focus of the RPA must be on making this year’s payments rather than sorting out next years forms; secondly, how can the tens of thousand of farmers with non-validated claims be expected to submit a claim for 2006 if they do not know if they got the last one right?

These points are meant to be constructive and clear responses would make life a little easier for many people.     

Yours sincerely,

Jim Paice MP