16 March 2006


Following the announcement today (16 March) of the removal of Johnston McNeill as Chief Executive of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), David Fursdon, President of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) said:

"This sacking is an important first step in resolving the mess that is the RPA. I welcome the appointment of Mark Addison as the new acting CEO. The CLA will work with Mr Addison to ensure that farmers in England get the payments they so desperately need as soon as possible.

"The RPA promised Lord Bach that it would get 96% of payments out by the start of February 2006. It then said it would get the "bulk" out by end of March. It now seems that even this watered down promise has been missed.

"The CLA and others have been saying that farmers need certainty, frankness and transparency. That is why last week the CLA signed a joint letter to Johnston McNeill copied to Lord Bach asking for regular and reliable statistics on their progress in making payments. Now that we have had yet another set-back, it seems right to me that Mr McNeill has now been asked to go.

"CLA looks forward to meeting with Lord Bach next week and we also welcome the minister's promise of a review of how the RPA works and its functions.

"At the end of the day, we have to remember the farmers who are being affected by this fiasco. Many have been waiting for payments for months and will now have to renegotiate facilities with banks and rearrange plans to transfer entitlements. Others will have to put plans to develop their business on hold.

"McNeill's going is a step in the right direction but the CLA will not rest until its members have the payments to which they are entitled. We now need to see a step change in the philosophy of the RPA. It must stop being a secretive and defensive organisation which reluctantly releases information and payments. It must now become a proper partner in helping British agriculture to adapt to the challenges of the future."