Cattle Movement Service [BCMS] and the Rural Payments Agency
I didn't mention my adventures with the British
Cattle Movement Service [BCMS] and the Rural Payments Agency [RPA].
I only have six suckler cows, for goodness sake -
and I am capable of making mistakes with the best of them - but the systems seem
so CUMBERSOME and so plainly vulnerable to mistakes... It is
hard enough to get the right data entered and recognised when you are honest and
trying to get it right. A system so inefficient and leaky must be wide
open to fraud. I agree with whomsoever wrote recently that the rising tide
to paperwork, licences, etc. favour the farmer who is adept at writing
I made an application for one of the only two
subsidies we claim - the Suckler Cow Premium Scheme - on 5th December last
year. The scheme is simple enough. You must have permission -
'quota' - to claim the subsidy. [We were originally given quota for six
cows - the labyrinthine workings of our government and the EU has now whittled
this down to 5.7 cows... - Don't ask what 0.7 of a cow looks like on the
hoof.] You inform the RPA that you are keeping the requisite number
of cows and give them their individual identifying numbers. The RPA
confirm these and tell you the dates between which you must keep them [or agreed
replacements if any mishap befalls any of them] on your farm. The
honesty of your claim can be tested, because at any time during the 'retention'
period, official inspectors can come and check that you are indeed keeping the
cows. Seems straightforward enough. At the end of the retention
period, the subsidy should be payable and no more paperwork and staff and farmer
time necessary. Most claimants will be honest - and any cheats risk being
caught by an inspection and then penalised. Simple and cheap to operate
Instead, DEFRA has dived into a morass of cross
references and bureaucracy. Fine for administrative job-creation but
otherwise an inefficient and costly waste of time. Another set of
costs to blame on the productive British Farmer.
Months after I had made my claim, I rang the RPA
to check on progress. I was told that the RPA checks the claim against the
records of my six cows held at the BCMS. This had thrown up about
five anomalies! Most could be disregarded but one of my four year old
cows, was recorded by BCMS as a heifer - not a cow... It was an animal
that I had brought-in as a replacement, so I consulted my neighbour, from whom I
had obtained her as a 'cow'. He confirmed that she had calved and gave me
the number of the calf. I phoned the BCMS. They confirmed that their
records did not show that the cow had ever produced a calf. I
asked about the calf, giving its number. The calf was indeed recorded
but the number of the dam had been entered without the prefix 'UK' [UK
cattle identification numbers consist of the producer's herd number
and a number for the individual animal -about twelve digits in all - and the
whole sequence of numbers is prefixed by the letters 'UK']. Because
the 'UK' had been omitted, the connection between cow and calf hadn't been
made. They would correct this.
Next, on the 16th September, I received a letter
from the RPA telling me that "The RPA is required by the EU Commission to
check that the information about bovine animals subject to subsidy claims
matches that on the BCMS cattle tracing system (CTS)" Their checks had
thrown up an anomaly: "Scanned Movement Card received at BCMS with no "On" or "Off" movement ticked for the
movement" of the cow. The copy of the record printed out and included,
showed only the record of the cow's birth on my neighbour's farm and a record of
it moving off my farm after the end of the retention
period. Surprisingly the RPA conclusion was that this "clearly
shows that the animal was not moved off one holding and onto the other".
How on earth they thought the animal had managed to move off a different farm
from the one on which she had been born, without moving baffled me.
Fortunately I had kept a photocopy of the movement card I had posted to BCMS
when the cow arrived. I checked and confirmed that it had been correctly
filled out with a clear and bold tick in the 'on' box. I pointed this out
to the BCMS who said that the scan of the card must have missed the tick.
They would correct the record and inform the RPA. I then asked what had
become of the movement card that my neighbour would have sent when the cow
moved. They apparently had received that too - but the date of the
movement had not been scanned - so they had not entered that either. I
checked with my neighbour, who had also kept a copy of his card. The date
was entered clearly and very legibly. I informed BCMS, who promised to
correct the record.
I then rang the RPA, told them that the BCMS had
promised to amend the records and inform them. "Oh no they won't, was the
reply: they will alter the record and we can read it." The record
hadn't been corrected yet. I promised to write to them. I haven't
heard from them yet but the outstanding part of the subsidy has been
I expect all the staff time and to-ing and fro-ing
will have cost more than the value of the subsidy.
My application to join the Beef Assurance
Scheme threw up the requirement that all my cattle should be adorned with two
eartags. The oldest three, being pedigree Devons, had survived so far with
the Devon Cattle Breeders' Society tattoos, and no eartags. Tagging them
[apart from being fairly hazardous - you try persuading a bull weighing about a
ton to allow you to drive sharp objects through not one but two ears!]
required a new-style number. After consultation with the BCMS the numbers
were allocated - and BCSM promised to send new-style passports to go with the
new numbers. I tagged the animals and lived to tell the tale -
just... The passports arrived a few days ago. The dates of birth of
the cattle were correct - but they were all listed as 'Dexters' [nearly 'Devon'
I suppose] and the bull was 'female'. I await the corrected
I don't want to be too 'clever' about these
mistakes. I make my own mistakes too. But the consequences of the
mistakes are so far reaching, and the systems require so many disparate actions
to be completed correctly, received correctly and entered in the correct
register - and so on - that the likelihood of a mistake occurring is
And if you would like an even more ridiculous
set of procedures - just cast an eye over the Country Stewardship
Scheme!!! I daren't even start to explain.
It seems to me that all these systems are designed
- not to achieve their ostensible object - efficient and good quality food
production and the creation of a pleasant and sustainable environment - but to
maximise the opportunities for bureaucratic elaboration and control.
Nobody in charge seems to understand or attempt to understand how to simplify
and make the system effective. The commonsense basic purposes have been
forgotten and it all seems to be run and constructed by and for the benefit of
non productive administrators. The EU is probably less to blame for these
iniquities than our own Civil Service - I am sure that if the intention were
there the administrative way could be found - but under current management, the
EU certainly provides plenty of scope for generating more nonsense and
more and more excuses.