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£418 million fine for RPA blunders

Extract from Private Eye 7.2.08

"..... The root of the problem, as a committee of MPs found out last year, was that Margaret Beckett, when she was in charge of Defra, had personally chosen the most complicated of the various methods suggested for doling out the subsidies. It was then made much worse by contracting out the design of the system to a firm of consultants, Accenture, which first charged £18m to set it up, and then when it all went belly-up, was given another £19m to sort out the mess that it itself had created.
These were mere incidental expenses, however, compared with what happened when Brussels learned that most of the money it had given the Treasury had not been passed on to farmers. Two years running the EU Commission fined the UK for late payments and other breaches of the rules. But what then became something of a mystery was the precise size of the bill UK taxpayers were left to pay as a result, and it was this figure that Lord Stoddart asked the government to reveal.
The answer given in Hansard on 8 January and ignored by the media was that the fines paid so far amount to £63 million. But Defra revealed that it has also had to set aside a further £355m to pay fines for late payments and other offences bringing the grand total to a staggering £418m.
Such is the possible bill for all Defra’s cock-ups to date - to make up for which it has already had to slash various parts of its budget for other vital tasks such as providing flood defences and keeping the canal system in good repair. And since MPs were told last year that this shambles might not be finally sorted out till 2012 we c an expect the final bill to rise even higher.
But this remarkable revelation was not the only nugget of information to emerge from recent parliamentary answers. Another device used by Defra to make up this massive shortfall was to offer hundreds of its officials early retirement. In answers given to Tory MP Peter Ainsworth on 10 January, the junior farming minister, Jonathan Shaw, revealed that 372 officials had so far taken up the offer - the bill for which this year alone will amount to a further £47m. So, adding up the fines from Brussels, pay-off to Defra’s goons for early retirement and Accenture’s bonus for its incompetence, the total bill we must all pay for sorting out Mrs Beckett’s shames comes (so far) to nearly £500m, around £20 for every taxpayer in the land. Not bad for a woman who rarely bothered to hide the contempt she felt for Britain’s farmers.


























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