The fiendishly complex system of payments was introduced in 2005 by Margaret Beckett. In 2006, Boris Johnson wrote:
Recent Warmwell postings on the RPA ( Rural Payments Agency) Since Jan 2006
The move away from separate crop and livestock subsidies to a single payment based on land owned, led to a bureaucratic nightmare. As these pages show, farmers were left facing bankruptcy because of late payments - and a £75 million EU fine had to be paid by DEFRA using money vital for other things. By October 2009, there had been 3 separate NAO scrutiny papers (and a Committee of Public Accounts investigation) all deeply critical of the whole scheme and its overseers. In July 2010 the latest report commented, "the review process was made unnecessarily difficult by the RPA leadership resisting its commencement."
"read the 98-page booklet provided by the Rural Payments Agency and you will find your lungs tightening and your lips blibbering into a pant-hoot of pure amazement at the insanity of our masters."
In the July 2011 NAO report, Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office
"There continues to be a significant loss to the taxpayer because of weaknesses in the administration of the Single Payment Scheme by the Rural Payments Agency. I welcome the appointment of a new senior leadership team at the Agency which should now urgently address the issues which have led to my qualifications."However, the EFRA Select Committee's report published in 2015 "Work of the Committee: 2010-15" talks of ".. the waste of around £600 million over the years in EU fines because of the RPA's failure properly to implement the 2005 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) settlement." RPA website
June 2016 ~ On 1 May the RPA claimed that all farmers had received either a full BPS payment or a bridging loan worth 50% of the value of their 2015 claim. Not true, according to NFU.
The Farmers Weekly reports that six months after the opening of the payment window, the union has warned that it is "ridiculous" that thousands of farmers are still waiting for cash.
November 10th 2015 ~ "I'm no computer Luddite, but..."
Warmwell reader and farmer, Christopher Sturdy writes:
"Glancing through your RPA and BPS pages, I see the £154m cost of the digital application process that was shelved.Mr Sturdy adds that even if DEFRA were not DEFRA but a commercial corporation, he thinks they probably wouldn’t do what RPA have done with the SPS and BPS systems, given the very small number of applicants involved and the complexity of the variations. As an interesting aside, he adds
If there are 88,000 applicants, as Mark Grimshaw says, and if RPA were to pay graduates £200 per day (£1,000 per week), to deal with the applications the old-fashioned way, then each graduate would have 8¾ days to process each application by hand (£1,750 per application). Halve it if you like to pay for NI, employment costs, etc., but it’s still four days. It certainly makes you think (again) doesn’t it...
Right from the start, I have always said that given the small number of accounts in question, the whole thing should always have been done by hand. Computers are utterly wonderful, but not everywhere and usually not, we know, in the Government’s hands."
"I remember in the early days of the Beckett Single Farm Payment, hearing Peter Kendall (for whom I have always had the very highest respect) tell a local group how the payments were going to be just a top-up, pocket money, we would be so efficient that farming would pay on its own…. I never bought this, not least because of the vast cost disadvantage compared to most of the rest of the world - in labour and also in mechanisation viz. Australian, US, Canadian wheatbelts. Now if you look at the NFU’s weekly emails, it’s "When’s our money coming? We can’t do without it, Why the delay? We need it for rents, etc. etc." Without it, I don’t think there would be many UK farmers left."
November 6th 2015 ~ Hard-up farmers getting nervous about possible payments delay
Although the RPA says it is still "on track" to make full BPS payments as early as possible in the "payment window", with many of the 88,000 farmers who are due to receive it getting the payment before the end of December and the "vast majority" by the end of January 2016, Farmers Weekly quotes Richard Wordsworth, the NFU’s senior Basic Payments Scheme adviser
"The window opens in 25 days. In normal years, the RPA would have tens of thousands of claims sitting there, waiting to validate. I don’t think we are currently in that situation. If a large number of payments go out in December/January, that would be great. But what about those farmers who won’t be paid during this time?Mr Wordsworth said farm cashflow had been worsened by other late payments such as ELS and HLS (agri-environment schemes). Some farmers are still waiting for payments that are already two months late. It is worrying that so many farmers are in financial distress at a time when national food security is an ever-growing concern for the UK and the rest of the world.
How quickly will they be able to get those payments out to farmers who rely on the money to pay bills, including lease agreements, tax returns, mortgage payments and rents?"
July 14th 2015 ~ "Defra's annual report and accounts has highlighted the huge cost of the maladministration of the previous CAP regime and also revealed the cost of the IT problems the blighted this year's BPS application.."
DEFRA's annual report and accounts were published on Tuesday. See www.fginsight.com
"... Defra has paid out more than £600 million in EU disallowance finances over the past eight years as a result of its disastrous implementation of the previous Common Agricultural Policy.... reveal for the first time the cost, or at least part of it, of the botched attempt to introduce an online only application for the new Basic Payment Scheme.
Defra has been forced to write off £5 million as a result of the switch to a paper-based system this spring. ... pales into relative insignificance against the vast cost to the taxpayer of previous failures to implement the Single Payment Scheme properly. The total cumulative value of disallowance penalties recognised in the Department's financial statements March 31 2015 is £642m ...
This equates to 'disallowance penalties' of £2.70 for every £100 of CAP funds paid out to the UK from the European Commission since 2005...main causes of the penalties were late payment to farmers, poor mapping data used to verify applications, and shortcomings in cross-compliance controls, according to a report by the National Audit Office..."
April 24th 2015 ~Problems with the online system mean it is likely farmers will have to wait longer for their money this year...
..and part payments to tide farmers over while they wait have been ruled out by the RPA. Payments are unlikely to be made before December. See FWi
April 23rd 2015 ~ BBC's Farming Today at NFU HQ on April 21st recorded Mark Grimshaw's session at NFU Council.
"... We've emailed out pre-populated claim forms to 68,000 registered customers and for all those where an email did not get through we have made arrangements to send them by post, 12,500 will be sent through the post to those who are currently unregistered and they should receive those by the end of the month. And, quite encouragingly, we have received 2,271 claims as of yesterday morning (20 Apr)."The deadline for claim submissions is now 15 June 2015. For a short time, one may listen again "Frustrated farmers force the head of the Rural Payments Agency to face the music" on the BBC site here (8 mins 35 secs).
As the NFU website reports, the NFU Council's general feeling was "one of concern, frustration and the need to clarify the position in order to get down to the business of correct form completion in good time".
Questions from Council delegates included:
- The need to complete an RLE 1 to map out ineligible field areas.
- Printing claim forms and the correct approach to printing.
- Not receiving emailed application forms.
- Status of long term grass margins in arable fields.
- Pre-populated data and maps being incorrect.
- Clarity over guidance versions.
- Possibility of partial payments.
- Location of drop-in centres and gaps in coverage (Isle of Wight).
- Greening estimator.
- Penalties levied on farmers claims due to change in application process.
- What is the future of ‘digital by default'?
- Sheep EID.
- What support do drop-in centres offer?
March 24th 2015 ~ RPA mentioned as part of DEFRA's "consistent failure of the Department to meet goals it sets itself."
The EFRA Select Committee's report "Work of the Committee: 2010-15" talks of ".. the waste of around £600 million over the years in EU fines because of the RPA's failure properly to implement the 2005 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) settlement."
March 20th 2015 ~ "We are essentially going back a year, giving people the paper option"
Another fine mess, alas - and the £154 million pound "improvement" to the RPA's IT system seems to have been money down the drain. (see the Farmers Guardian a year ago where the headline was "£154m CAP payment system aims to avoid SPS fiasco repeat"). The RPA chief executive, Mark Grimshaw, has admitted that the slowness and complexity of the online BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) mapping tool means that the BPS deadline for applications has been extended by one month to 15 June and all farmers are now being offered the opportunity to complete applications on paper; "using tried-and-tested RPA forms will make this happen". The RPA had given assurances that the full BPS mapping service and functions would be available for registered farmers to use from last weekend.
FWi quotes George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), who wonders whether Defra has learned anything from the last payments fiasco in 2005.
"He said his association had been expressing concerns about the functionality of the system as long as two years ago. "It was being driven by Defra / Gov.Uk service philosophy that 'digital by default' was the right way to go – we didn't think it was appropriate. We thought this was going to end in tears. It's quite evident that the RPA has been left in an extremely difficult position by GDS and Defra, who created a system that was never going to work.See fwi.co.uk for more detail.
January 2015 ~ Question marks over applying for the new digital-only "Rural Payments" system .
Although the RPA has done well in exceeding its Single Payment Scheme (SPS) 2014 target for the end of March, more than two months ahead of schedule, many farmers and agents reported difficulties in using the online registration for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) Getting their identities cleared using the "Verify" website proved very tricky. Sarah Reece, who is an associate partner at Berry Bros' Shrewsbury office, said her own attempt to get through Verify failed. She then tried twice to register by telephone using the RPA's alternative telephone service - but was unsuccessful. She is quoted by FWi :
"The whole thing is causing us real concern – we are worried we are going to be back where we were in 2005."Guy Smith, NFU Vice Secretary:
"The question is do the RPA have the necessary telephone manpower to register thousands upon thousands of farmer applicants in a short period of time to then allow the farmer to get on and review data and then build up their claims?"The RPA said it was "committed to ensuring that all those who want to claim rural payments in 2015 will be able to do so and we are resourcing the agency appropriately."
The Western Morning News (Jan 28th) quotes RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw on the online registration system:
"We're continuing to release the service gradually so we can gather feedback and improve the technology as we go. People can get started on the new service, checking their details and building their application, but won't be able to make a complete claim until March. Working with industry partners we opened up the service to thousands of their members over Christmas and the New Year. We would urge anyone who wants to make a claim to get registered as soon as they are invited and we will take them through the journey with plenty of time to make changes."For more information on the new Rural Payments service visit www.gov.uk/ruralpayments (See also below)
June 2014 ~ Changes set by the EU will cost around £150m - and may lead to "a time-consuming and frustrating process for farmers"
The EU's changes to CAP "greening" regulations are likely to cause frustration to both farmers and the Rural Payments Agency. As the Journal points out today (June 30th)
"As of January 2015, the farming Single Payment System is to be replaced with the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and all farmers applying for this subsidy will have to carry out an online application through the Rural Payment Agency (RPA)."Hedges can now contribute towards Environmental Focus Areas and will be allowed to count towards the new environmental requirements that all farmers will have to comply with in order to receive BPS subsidies - but as the Journal says, "The main delay will be caused by the requirement for farmers to accurately map all hedges on their holdings and convey this complex data accurately to the RPA. Currently, existing mapping data from agri-environment schemes held by the RPA cannot be used and all hedges recorded by farmers will need to be digitally recorded (or re-recorded) and then verified, thus adhering to strict legislation set down by the European Commission."
Read Journal article.
April 1st 2014 ~ Defra's new £154 million IT system "will ensure there is no repeat of the 2005 payments fiasco"
The new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is set to replace the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) in less than a year's time. As we read at the Farmers Guardian
"painful lessons have clearly been learned from the previous reform when everything which could go wrong did with devastating effects for farmers and Government..."Read in full.
May 19th 2013 ~ Angus Growers won the appeal by the Scottish Ministers / RPA."I regret to say that in my opinion the RPA emerges from this case with no credit"
As we reported below, Angus Growers, the Arbroath based Producer Organisation of 19 soft fruit growers, suffered a withdrawal of recognition as a "Producer Organisation" under the EU Fruit and Vegetable Aid Scheme and this was upheld by the Scottish Land Court in March 2010. The Rural Payments Agency, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, had alleged a number of breaches of the EU Regulations governing the scheme. The RPA had rejected Angus Grower's case at 2 internal appeals; the growers were then able to take the case to the Scottish Land Court - which found in their favour. The Court found there had been
"no substantial breaches of the regulations" and that "Angus Growers had attempted at every stage to comply with the advice given by the RPA...... Throughout the negotiations that I have narrated, AG's directors and its consultant found themselves locked in a frustrating correspondence in which, it seems, they were aiming at a constantly moving target. They conducted their side of the correspondence with unfailing courtesy and with unfailing patience; only to be visited at the last minute with the shock of the most drastic penalty that the RPA could impose. I regret to say that in my opinion the RPA emerges from this case with no credit."Now, after 3 years of uncertainty, it is very reassuring to be able to report that Angus Growers, having won their appeal against the RPA because of their determination, loyalty to each other, and legal backing from an excellent team, are again recognised as a Producer Organisation. Their funding is to be reinstated.
May 18th 2013 ~DEFRA "pocketed £10,000 in revenue" from high rate phone lines operated by the Rural Payments Agency.
The Daily Mail reports that the Labour MP, John Healey, has said that almost two thirds of the government's 371 lines called by the public are high cost 0844 and 0845 numbers or premium (09) numbers. The numbers cost up to 41p per minute to call.
"Mr Healey has compiled a dossier of the huge costs charged by ministries to discuss benefits, travel queries and business advice. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee should now investigate the use of the numbers and the impact on the public, Mr Healey said."Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance is quoted by the Telegraph: "It's appalling that various Government departments and agencies are using sky-high premium rate numbers as they tend to hit those on lowest incomes the hardest. "Taxpayers already pay a huge amount to fund public services, and these extra charges mean they are paying through the nose again just to speak to someone about them. "The Government should scrap these expensive lines and remove as many obstacles as possible for people trying to access information about their public services."
July 2012 ~ The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) still cannot say how much it has overpaid and underpaid farmers since the Single Payment Scheme began, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
This is the fourth year that the RPA has been unable to provide the figure for overpayments in audited form and the third year for its inability to reveal the underpayments amount. The NAO said:
"The agency continues to experience considerable difficulties in quantifying the value of overpayments and underpayments made to farmers under the scheme"
June 2012 ~ "the standard of proof used by the RPA for assessing an intentional over-declaration was wrong.. the penalties imposed were unlawful... the penalty was entirely disproportionate to the offence."
A North Devon farming family has successfully challenged a demand to pay back nearly £60,000 to the Rural Payments Agency after having been accused last November of intentionally over claiming around £350 per year in Single Farm Payment when there was a mistake in the form. The RPA demanded back a total of £59,569.30 for the previous three years The family are quoted by the NFU online :
"We are both thrilled and relieved to have this overturned. Like most small farms we are dependent on this payment, so facing this penalty has been extremely damaging and distressing for us. As a result, we urge all farmers to be extremely careful when making their returns and in addition, if they think they have been wrongly treated, to contact the NFU and seek legal advice..."
28th April 2012 ~ Rural Payments Agency Framework Document - Hansard
26th April Hansard
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): An update to the Rural Payments Agency's framework document is being published today.... the update reflects the action taken since publication of the 2013 review of the RPA to strengthen governance arrangements both in DEFRA and the RPA, including:Mr Paice went on to say that the RPA framework document could be viewed on the RPA's website: "and I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses".
The establishment of the RPA oversight board, which I personally chair, to oversee the agency's operations and its preparations for implementation of the expected 2013 CAP reforms. Independent scrutiny is provided by the appointment of four non-executive directors;
Additional independent scrutiny and challenge of the RPA's internal governance, with non-executive directors appointed to the chair of the agency management board and the RPA's audit and risk committee;
For the rest of us, it takes some finding. The 31 page pdf file can (after a tricky search of the RPA website) be seen here.
April 28th 2012 ~ RPA new Framework Document - the "vision"
3.3 Defra's vision for RPA is of a professional agency, trusted and respected by farmers and other customers and stakeholders to deliver:Read the document in full (One wonders how far Caroline Spelman rejoices at the sentence: "The Secretary of State has overall responsibility for RPA and is accountable to Parliament for all matters concerning the Agency.")
- A timely, efficient and accurate service for its customers;
- Effective payment and business controls that satisfy EU and UK rules and that reduce risks to Government;
- Simplification in scheme administration, working with Defra and EU, in order to improve value for money and reduce burdens on its customers;
- Authoritative data on the rural environment which can be used across the Defra network for making and implementing policy;
- Positive collaboration within the Defra network to increase operational knowledge and improve customer insight; and
- Openness and accountability by making information available to taxpayers and users of its services within regulatory constraints.
April 20th 2012 ~ The Rural Payments Agency has been accused of picking on small farms to boost the recorded number of inspections it carries out.
The Farmers Guardian quotes Philip Kettle, from Buckminster, in Lincolnshire, who has only a flock of 23 pedigree Hampshire Down sheep and four pedigree Highland cattle. His smallholding has been inspected four times since 2008
"It seems the RPA is just selecting smaller units for inspections because it is easier and quicker than inspecting large units and a way of boosting its numbers. We have got a Government agency responsible for millions of pounds and this doesn't seem a professional way of doing things.Read in full.
We have had all the letters from the RPA and have had late payments like everyone else. We've also had a field number which isn't mine appearing on our forms each year and, although I kept telling them, it still keeps appearing.
I began canvassing people and the only person I found who'd had an inspection was a woman who had just two sheep. None of the larger farms and holdings, with sheep numbers ranging from 300 to 1,500, have been inspected, even though they claim more from the RPA than me."
April 17th 2012 ~ Rural Payments Agency helpline (0845 603 7777)
The helpline is to open at weekends to help farmers with 2012 Single Payment Scheme applications.
February 17th 2012 ~ POs: The Scottish Land Court has given its verdict on Scottish Producer Organisations "That the Scottish Ministers should simply accept the RPA approach - that legal issues were too difficult to bother with - is beyond the scope of useful comment by us."
Nineteen soft fruit growers who had their producer organisation funding withdrawn after a row with the Rural Payments Agency and Scottish ministers are to have it restored after the Scottish Land Court backed their appeal.
The farmers are all members of Arbroath-based Angus Growers. Their recognition as a producer organisation was dropped in March 2010 after it was alleged it was not in control of collecting and packing its members' production and no longer a genuine standalone company.
The growers twice appealed to the RPA to have the decision reversed.
The RPA alleged that there had been "a number of breaches of the EU Regulations governing the scheme" and after two internal appeals the growers were able to take the case to the Scottish Land Court. The Court found there had been no substantial breaches of the regulations and that
"Angus Growers had attempted at every stage to comply with the advice given by the RPA......we are satisfied that the appeal should be allowed and the decision to withdraw recognition with effect from 1 January 2008 should be set aside. It would seem to follow in principle that the appellants should be found entitled to payment of all the sums that would have been paid to it in the absence of withdrawal of recognition ..."See also Press and Journal.
As one emailer remarks: ".....it is possible to reach the right decisions, but this does take persistence and determination, as well as a fair bit of money.... The sad thing both for our business and the tax payers is that so many of the problems are caused by the RPA's inability to read and understand the regulations." See also our postings from August 2011.
February 11th 2012 ~ RPA uses spy satellites and drones to "check for irregularities"
"...Scanning a farm with a satellite costs about one third as much as sending an inspector on a field visit - £115 ($180; 150 euros) rather than £310 ($490; 400 euros), says the UK's Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which is responsible for disbursing the subsidies in the UK and checking for irregularities.Read article in full.
The RPA follows up only on those claims where there is some doubt about accuracy, and then only at the specific fields for which the doubt exists," the RPA says. "This saves time, lifts the burden on farmers and reduces cost to the taxpayer."Satellites can rapidly cover a huge area in detail and quickly return to photograph it again if necessary.
In 2010, about 70% of the total required controls on farm payments in the EU were done by satellites, which photographed more than 210,000 sq km (81,000 sq miles) of land in all.
But they are not infallible. Austria does not use them, on the grounds that the shadows cast by very mountainous terrain sometimes make satellite images inaccurate. And Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, decided against satellites "because of the difficulty of getting enough clear weather for flyovers", a Scottish government spokeswoman told the BBC....."
January 26th 2012 ~ RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw assesses the RPA's systems and processes..."quite frankly have not been fit for purpose"
The Farmers Guardian quotes from Mr Grimshaw's speech to the NFU council on Tuesday, outlining the "clear improvements" made in delivering the 2011 Single Payment Scheme.
"We have inaccurate data sources of past, present and future schemes claims; we have got a lack of standard processes and controls; we have got some ageing systems and, quite frankly, unsuitable technology; we have an organisational structure and associated corporate services that have not been fit for purpose; our systems and tools are insufficient to allow us to deliver the level of customer service we expect and, across the agency, we don't have the necesary the commitment to our customer development. That is a long list."He said the problems were so "deep-rooted" there was little prospect of them being fully resolved until at least 2014 but that DEFRA and the RPA were desperate to "learn the lessons" of the disastrous implementation of the current CAP regime in implementing the next set of reforms. He also pledged that the RPA would ensure it had a voice in the CAP negotiations. Read article Mr Grimshaw told the NFU Council that he was leading a "root and branch" review of RPA processes, including customer relations.
January 26th 2012 ~ PQs yesterday
Mr Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the number of landowners in receipt of subsidy payments under the (a) Single Payment Scheme and (b) Rural Development Programme whose land is held in an offshore trust; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr Paice: No estimate has been made. Payments under the single payment scheme and rural development programme depend on the farmer having land at his or her disposal, not on the nature of the ownership. The Rural Payments Agency, therefore, does not hold information about whether land is held in an offshore trust.
Mr Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will require the Rural Payments Agency to ensure landowners in receipt of subsidies under the Single Payment Scheme and the Rural Development Programme for England have registered their land with the Land Registry; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr Paice: No. The Rural Payments Agency has no power under the EU scheme rules to make payments under either the single payment scheme or rural development programme conditional on landowners registering their land with the Land Registry.
December 21st 2011 ~ RPA has announced its 'best ever' Dec SPS performance.
The Farmers Guardian carries the story "....(RPA) has achieved its December Single Payment Scheme (SPS) targets, nearly two weeks ahead of schedule.
The agency has paid more than £1.4 billion to around 91,400 farmers since the SPS payment window opened on December 1.
This represents 81 per cent of the estimated value of 2011 payments for 2011, against a December target of 78 per cent and 87 per cent of farmers eligible under the scheme, against a target of 86 per cent.
Farming Minister Jim Paice said the agency had already delivered its ‘highest ever proportion of payments made in the whole of December' two weeks ahead of schedule. Despite the obvious progress this year, approximately 14,000 farmers in England are still awaiting their payments.
.... Not everyone was impressed with the agency's performance. Commenting on Twitter, one farmer still waiting for his payment said: "As one of the 14,000, not being told what the hold up is, I'm less than congratulatory."
November 30th 2011 ~ DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) have agreed to pay out thousands of pounds to farmers who suffered financially from maladministration of the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
The Farmers Guardian reports:
"They have accepted the payouts, in some cases amounting to five-figure sums, after the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, upheld complaints... The RPA faced complaints on a number of counts, including:Read in full
- That they provided poor quality and sometimes ambiguous guidance on how to make a claim.
- Failed to return applicants' telephone calls when this had been promised.
- Misdirected applicants about the status of their cases.
- Delayed letting applicants know that they would not be paid
- Did not explain their decisions properly.
Ms Abraham said the RPA also failed to consider the effects their errors and omissions had on the farmers when they came to complain..."
November 2011 ~ "We are new to this issue and looked rather gobsmacked at the history" Margaret Hodge, Chair of PAC Committee
Rural Payments Agency - Corrected Evidence - Follow up to the NAO report and given to the Public Accounts Committee 14 November 2011 Dame Helen Ghosh was in characteristic voice, insisting that her judgement was good. Margaret Hodge was not convinced:
"... I would put it to you that I think paying out that sort of money in bonuses and early retirement benefits to individuals who had cost us half a billion pounds in fines from the EU does not look to me like protecting the taxpayer's interest."The document is fascinating, shining a cold light on the gulf between positive, assertive bureaucratic spin and the reality of what was described by the Committee as a "dysfunctional organisation".
Towards the end of the document we read a question from Margaret Hodge that some might find chilling:
"Dame Helen, it is reported in the newspapers-the Chair alluded to this earlier-that you are applying to be the head of the civil service. I always take the view, on things that I read in the newspapers, that 50% of what you read is correct, but you can never be sure which 50%, so I do not necessarily take what I read at face value. Can you confirm that you are applying to be the head of the civil service?"(Few would deny that her answer to this rather stunning question is all of a piece with the rest of her answers.)
November 9th 2011 ~ "Communications with farmers who are not paid early in the window must be improved now.." James Paice
(For speakers of normal English, the "window" referred to here means the time in which RPA payments ought to be paid out.)
Mr Paice admitted to Parliament- the apparently positive nature of his extremely wordy statement notwithstanding - that
"there remains some distance to go before I could be happy that farmers are receiving the service they deserve."Extract"...the RPA Oversight Board, which I chair, has reviewed the existing indicator in the business plan for demonstrating that payments under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) are made in an accurate and cost-effective manner.... Against that background the Oversight Board has agreed the following additional indicators for 2011 SPS:
- By the end of December 2011 to have paid a minimum of 86% of eligible claimants and 78% of the total estimated value; and
- By the end of March 2012 to have paid a minimum of 95% of both the eligible claimants and the total estimated value.
These indicators reflect a change in the focus of the Agency's efforts towards processing the more difficult cases at an earlier stage, which is expected to increase the value of payments made at the beginning of the payment window while maintaining performance on the numbers of claimants paid in that period. Each individual indicator betters or matches performance under any previous scheme year while both reducing, rather than adding to, legacy problems and operating with a much reduced budget. That represents a stride forward for the Agency but, as I discussed with leaders of farming representative bodies last week, there remains some distance to go before I could be happy that farmers are receiving the service they deserve. I am clear that further strides towards that goal must be made in the indicators that are set for subsequent years and that communications with farmers who are not paid early in the window must be improved now. I know the RPA Chief Executive has heard the clear message from farm leaders on the latter point and will ensure steps are taken to address it over the coming months.
I will continue to keep the House informed on the Agency's progress."
August 5th 2011 ~ "Since Wednesday morning I've been receiving calls and emails from POs that have been de-recognised."
"De-recognised" is the jargon word for "dumped", it seems. News is beginning to emerge of the scale of the carnage. The NFU says,
"...The total number of de-recognised POs is yet to be revealed by the RPA, but the number is much larger than anybody expected, with anecdotal reports suggesting that it's near 50% (including some surprise casualties).Our information via the NFU contains the following sentence: "Jim Paice met growers in East Anglia yesterday, with Meurig, and was left under no illusion as to how poorly treated growers feel."
Those POs that have been de-recognised are clearly appalled at the decision, and are anxious to understand why. I have contacted the RPA to state that, under the circumstances, these POs are entitled to know the reasons (in broad detail if nothing else at this stage), for their de-recognition. Those who are out of the scheme and have put a lot of work into the review need explanations quickly.
Every PO that has been de-recognised will have the opportunity to present further evidence at a one-to-one meeting in the next month, which may alter their status, but for now every PO's status is as per the RPA's decision on Wednesday."
August 4th 2011 ~"I can't see that the RPA would be offering to meet if there was not something to discuss, although I struggle to get an answer out of them about anything."
This was the tired comment from a member of one of the 46 Producer Organisations (POs) that were originally designed to motivate growers of a particular fruit or vegetable to work together in order to enhance their businesses. EU support has been set at around £27m a year - aid that is match-funded by the organisations and their members. Members usually found it necessary to take out bank loans to find such match funding - but these became increasingly hard to find as banks began to fear that the RPA/DEFRA might well renege on payments.
Following a visit by EU auditors in 2005, the UK Government suffered a fine of 22.6 million euros for the RPA's incorrect administration of the Producer Organisations aid scheme. Since then the scheme has been under constant EU auditor surveillance. See below.
Since December 2008, UK growers have been left wondering whether the RPA is considering stopping their producer organisation (PO) grants for good.
DEFRA began "re-inspecting" every PO to "check compliance" and, as one comment in the Farmers Guardian noted grimly, DEFRA seemed to be
"spending its time being a police service investigating producers that misinterpret the rules, rather than assisting them getting support to grow businesses that pay tax to support the UK economy."A press release was quietly (it seems) released yesterday. We read at rpa.defra.gov.uk
"The review of Producer Organisations (POs) recognised under the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Aid Scheme has now concluded. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is contacting each organisation today to let them know the outcome.(See press release in full) We wait to hear what is to be the fate of the POs.
RPA is also offering to meet POs to discuss their findings in more detail. Payments to compliant POs for 2010 annual claims and 2011 in-year requests will be made, subject to the usual checks. POs will each be informed about their individual circumstances....."
August 1st 2011 ~ No belt-tightening for Tony Cooper, it seems
The Farmers Weekly reports that the RPA's annual accounts for 2011 detail an exit package of £326,000. The 'golden goodbye' included early retirement benefits of £243,803 and £67,007 in respect of "compensation in lieu of notice". (More)
Last July, the Farmers Guardian announced his early retirement "for personal reasons".
Figures released following a Freedom of Information request revealed that Mr Cooper's travel expenses claims for 2008-09 included £3,138 for business-class flights abroad and £9,361 for 1st or Business Class tickets on UK trains . He also claimed £3,306 for private mileage and £13,320 for hotel accommodation in the UK.
In 2007-08, he claimed £34,987, which included £10,066 for travel and £15,244 for accommodation. Jim Paice, who was the Tories' shadow agriculture minister in February, was quoted in that month by the Western Morning News:
"That does seem a very large amount of money. It needs to be examined by the National Audit Office. We need to ensure that it's not being incurred unnecessarily. I don't see why any of his travel should be outside Europe. It should only be possibly to see how other countries are doing the job better."
July 25th 2011 ~ Tim Farron says the RPA is letting farmers down
He is frustrated that the latest NAO report says : "Total disallowance penalties paid and payable by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are now in excess of £0.5 billion." Mr Farron, elected President of the Liberal Democrats last September, is quoted here. He said:
"Reading the report by the National Audit Office it was as close as government administrators come to saying that a department is a disaster. The bottom line is that the Rural Payments Agency is letting farmers down. It is their job to ensure that farmers receive payments for providing essential environmental work - for most farmers in Cumbria, these payments are the difference between them scratching a living and going bankrupt. For six years now, the RPA has been letting farmers down, and the new government needs to do more than just blame the last one, we need real action. The agency is not in touch with the needs of rural communities, nor has it been properly accountable to ministers and the consequences are extreme hardship for local farmers in the South Lakes due to late payments and other mistakes. No senior civil servant would accept their salary being 6 months late, and no farmer should have to either!""
July 21st 2011 ~ The National Audit Office (NAO) has refused to sign off Whitehall accounts for a third year - the RPA has caused DEFRA more than £500m in EC fines.
We reported below that the MP for Thirsk and Malton, Anne McIntosh, who is the chairman of the EFRA Select Committee, has already written to Ministers asking for bonuses at the RPA to be halted until performance improves. She is quoted by the Yorkshire Post and says the NAO's inability to sign off the accounts for yet another year was "very worrying".
"We hope DEFRA will get its house in order, and the RPA. These are historic problems but we did alert them [DEFRA and the RPA] to our concerns – it's something the committee will wish to keep under review."The NAO said it was qualifying the 2010-11 accounts of both DEFRA and the RPA because they were not able to make an accurate assessment of underpayments and overpayments to farmers since the scheme began. However, the report on the Rural Payments Agency did note some improvements, including the appointment of a new senior leadership team.
This website first became aware of the extraordinary inefficiency of the RPA at the beginning of 2006. 5 years seems a long time for the issue to drag on and on - especially when it is cash strapped farmers and taxpayers in general who have to pay for the failings of the RPA.
July 6th 2011 ~ EFRA Committee calls for block on Rural Payments Agency bonuses
The EFRA Committee has called for Caroline Spelman to withhold bonuses to RPA staff until the organisation has ‘significantly improved its performance. The chair of the EFRA Committee, Anne McIntosh, has told Caroline Spelman in a letter that farmers are still suffering as a result of failures in systems to administer the single payment scheme.
"We are concerned that, at this crucial stage in negotiations on the future shape of the single payment scheme, the RPA should not leave any gaps in its management team. Have all those posts have now been filled? Many MPs continue to hear harrowing stories of the hardship caused to farmers by late payment from the Rural Payment Agency,"The Guardian today reports that "The committee has said IT systems were cumbersome, overly complex and at risk of becoming obsolete. At the end of 2009 the government ordered the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop plans to replace the IT systems known as Rita and Oregon, used by the agency to administer the single payment scheme."
The Farmers Guardian reports that Jim Paice welcomed "improved RPA SPS2010 performance" but acknowledged that more to be done.
April 28th 2011 ~ Yet more EU fines for RPA - and a poor lookout for the UK's Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organisations
Defra has again been fined about £24 million by the European Commission. Its statement said:
"...£23.8m charged to the United Kingdom with regard to weaknesses in recognition of Producer Organisations and related weaknesses and deficiencies in verifying the Value of Marked Production in the area of fruit and vegetables..."Producer Organisations were designed to motivate growers of a particular fruit or vegetable to work together in order to enhance their businesses. Forty-six POs now exist in the UK, drawing on EU support of around £27m a year - aid that is match-funded by the organisations and their members. Problems began when the RPA's methods of administering the scheme caused concern at EU level. See below. The NFU's head of food and farming, Phil Hudson, is quoted in the Yorkshire Post:
"News that the UK has been fined as a result of weaknesses in the administration of the fruit and vegetable regime will not come as a surprise..The NFU had called on DEFRA to restore confidence in the scheme and it is to its credit that DEFRA established a working group last autumn to produce clarified guidance on the rules of the scheme. We hope...Defra, the RPA and POs work together to ensure that the scheme's administration is fit for purpose and restores the confidence that has been lost over the past five years.In December, the chairman of one of the POs affected by late payments, Northern Mushrooms, explained the effect of non-payment by the RPA to the Farmers Weekly:
"In order to recover matched funding as part of the Fruit & Vegetable Aid Scheme, approved measures must be funded, in the first instance, by levies and loans from PO members. In reality the loans are often made by banks, safe in the knowledge that the RPA will be reimbursing POs which in turn will then reimburse their banks. The task of raising funds is now made doubly difficult if the banks think the RPA may be about to renege on existing commitments....."He said that the fresh produce industry struggled to make a 2% net margin and few horticulturalists had vast reserves of cash. There was real concern that many PO programmes, were "about to hit the buffers".
We understand that DEFRA are now in the process of re-inspecting every PO and are expected to find a number of problems. This could bring the number of court cases they are involved in well into double figures. (One comment in the Farmers Guardian notes grimly that DEFRA seems to be "spending its time being a police service investigating producers that misinterpret the rules, rather than assisting them getting support to grow businesses that pay tax to support the UK economy.")
See also Farmers Weekly "Progress being made on Payments, says Paice."
April 19th 2011 ~ NFU President Peter Kendall is one of over 6,000 farmers still waiting for their 2010 RPA payment
The Farmers Guardian today reports that Mr Kendall told the NFU council he had received a letter from the Rural Payments Agency, informing him he would receive his money 'by June 30', which he said was 'not much comfort'. He is now challenging Mr Paice to 'stop over-promising and under-delivering' when it comes to improving the RPA's performance.
"In eight month's time, when the SPS 2011 payment window opens, we expect the RPA to have got this right and for farmers to be paid on time."Gloucestershire country chairman John Tingey is quoted in the article as saying affected farmers in his county were 'at their wits end' and went to bed every night 'worrying about when they are going to get paid'.
March 31st 2011 ~ "... the Agency calculates that there are now in the region of 6,300 eligible claims remaining to be paid, with a combined value of around £215 million."
From James Paice's statement today :
"The frustrations felt by these farmers have been made very clear to me,... The Oversight Board has now approved two decisions which between them should ensure that less than one per cent of the monetary value of SPS 2010 payments remains outstanding at the end of the regulatory payment window which closes on 30 of June.Mr Paice has written to the directors of the main banks, asking them to alert their staff to the situation and asking them to be "understanding" to farmers and urging them to share his aim that no otherwise viable farming business fails because of cash flow issues related to the timing of SPS payments. Read in full at nds.coi.gov.uk
...The first decision is that, after rigorous testing on a sample to ensure accuracy of the process, fully validated manual payments will be made to approximately 2,000 farmers under the 2010 scheme ...over the next two months and take account of known entitlement corrections that have yet to be fully processed on the Agency's systems. Should there be any additional changes identified once payment has been made, the farmers concerned will be informed.
The second decision relates to those remaining SPS 2010 payments where there are outstanding queries on earlier scheme years. Where the SPS 2010 claim has been fully validated, payment for that scheme year will now be made.... RPA plan to complete the work required before the opening of the SPS 2011 payment window on 1 of December.
... partial payments....would not significantly increase the speed at which remaining claims are paid to farmers, but would add disproportionately to the backlog of corrective work required and introduce additional risks of EU fines.....
RPA will be writing to each of those concerned next week to explain what issues remain on their claims and the likely month of payment....continue to review the remaining backlog of potential error cases that need to be reviewed..."
March 7th 2011 ~ The Rural Payments Agency will fail to hit its target of paying 95% of 2010 claims by the end of March.
James Paice took control of the RPA Oversight Board to ensure targets were met and errors reduced. However, on Friday, he had to tell Parliament (Hansard) that the Board:
"...decided to ensure RPA make full use of all options open to us to reduce the backlog of error cases by not pursuing those where the farmer could not reasonably have been expected to identify an error. ....also set a priority to ensure that this year's payments are accurate so that a line can be drawn under past failures and farmers will know their precise entitlements going forward..... I regret to inform the House,.. the RPA will not achieve the target of paying 95% of claims by value by 31 March 2011. The estimated figure will be nearer to 90%.
We are therefore looking at the possibility of making manually validated payments to those who would otherwise be unlikely to be paid on the system before 30 June. However we need first to ensure that such payments would meet the required standard of accuracy in order to avoid further EU fines...."
February 3rd 2011 ~ Rural Payments Agency "... it is becoming far more efficient, with better work practices and a new chief executive who started a fortnight ago. I am convinced we can do better with less." Paice
Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD) asked DEFRA what progress had been made on "improving the performance of the Rural Payments Agency" adding that in Somerset, there were 12 new cases in January, "10 of whom are owed something like £295,000. Farmers face eviction by banks, are unable to pay for feed and some may have to sell their stock because of TB problems. Will the Minister ensure that the RPA accelerates the cases of Somerset farmers, such as Bob Pether, whose payments have been incorrect every year since"-
Hansard James Paice : Progress continues to be made in addressing the dire legacy described vividly in the independent review of the RPA published last year. Despite the issues arising from the updating of farmers' maps and reduced staff numbers, the RPA met its target to pay 85% of 2010 claimants by the end of December. But there is still much to do and it will inevitably take some time to address some very long-standing problems fully. ... have huge admiration for the work of the Farm Crisis Network, which I have visited and met on a number of occasions. The hon. Lady is right to say that it supports some very hard-pressed farmers, particularly small farmers, for whom the single farm payment is a major part of their income and without which they would be in desperate straits. I am determined that the RPA should find a way forward to get some cash into the hands of those people as soon as possible. If she would like to write to me about particular cases, I would be happy to pursue them."Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab) then asked how many staff would be cut from the RPA as a result of the 30% departmental spending cuts - and how that would speed up payments to farmers.
Mr Paice: The hon. Lady assumes that the RPA was working efficiently, but it certainly was not, as the previous question demonstrates. Yes, the reduction in overall public expenditure means that the RPA is having to take a reduction in staff alongside all other arm's length bodies, but at the same time it is becoming far more efficient, with better work practices and a new chief executive who started a fortnight ago. I am convinced we can do better with less."
January 19th 2011 ~"he does not consider that the Rural Payments Agency accounted correctly for euro transactions in 2008-09"
The National Audit Office report, (Full report - Consolidated Statement on the Use of EU Funds in the UK for the year ended 31 March 2009) published today gives
"an overview of the cost to the taxpayer of implementing EU schemes in the UK. It reports confirmed financial corrections, or 'disallowance penalties', being imposed on the UK by the European Commission of £398 million and provisions for further corrections of £601 million."In other words, the UK could be hit with up to £1bn in fines over the way it uses EU money.
Extract from the report: (page 6 paras 16-18)
"Both DEFRA and the RPA are required to produce accounts in accordance with the FReM, which interprets UK General Accepted Accounting Practice for use in the public sector...The RPA has significan exposure to exchange rate risk...the RPA uses a forward exchange contract to hedge its Single Payment Scheme-related Euro income....I do not consider that the RPA's application of FRS23 conformed to the Standard. In particular, the RPA did not apply the spot exchange rate on recognition of foreign currency transactions in respect of reimbursment from the Commission. The approach adopted by the RPA did not reflect the full volatility of exchange rates experienced in 2009. The effect of the RPA's treatment w3as to omit material gains/losses arising on retranslation of claims during the year...."The report by the "comptroller and Auditor General" is written in a neutral tone but which nevertheless can hardly conceal frustration at the incompetence that results in such heavy EU fines.
January 6th 2011 ~ "Achieving our 85% target is an important milestone..."
See Farmers Weekly "More than 90,000 English farmers received their single farm payment by the end of December 2010, according to the Rural Payments Agency. The latest figures published this week showed 85.5% of eligible claimants had been paid, ahead of the agency's target.... "
December 21st 2010 ~ "But that leaves about 20,000 farmers still waiting to receive their money."
"Payments totalling some £1.16 billion have been made to 85,060 farmers (80.6%) in England with the last few weeks, according to agency figures. The agency said it would continue to strive to meet its target to pay 85% of eligible claimants by the end of December.... Reasons for later payment could include entitlement correction work and inspections carried out under EU anti-fraud rules. There were also some probate cases and others where the agency was still waiting for partnership or bank details from the farmer. .... One farmer who faces a longer wait is Farmers Weekly Farmer Focus writer Charlie Armstrong, who farms at Alnwick, Northumberland. He has been sent a letter informing him that the agency is checking his entitlement payment. Mr Armstrong said he had been told he wouldn't receive anything until March. Other farmers in the area have also received the same letter, he said. In a normal year, Mr Armstrong said he would be able to cope with the cash flow disruption caused by the late payment. But he fears he will struggle this year due to severe winter weather. Earlier this month, more than 30cm of snow fell in less than 24 hours. Unforeseen expenses included buying in extra feed and making right a livestock shed that had collapsed due to the weight of snow...." Read in fullThe agency said it would continue to strive to meet its target to pay 85% of eligible claimants by the end of December.
November 26th 2010 ~ RPA again: Bad news for the UK's fruit & vegetable producers
Last December, UK growers were left wondering whether the RPA was going to stop their producer organisation (PO) grants for good (see below) Following a visit by EU auditors in 2005, the UK Government suffered a fine of 22.6 million euros for the RPA's incorrect administration of the Producer Organisations aid scheme. Since then the scheme has been under constant EU auditor surveillance. This scrutiny of the RPA has led to a loss of confidence and, led by the NFU, PO's have been calling for changes to the way in which the scheme in the hope that they can be sure it does not contravene the EU regulations. DEFRA established a small working group of PO representatives which met last friday (November 20th) However, and unrelated to that meeting, we hear today that the deadline for payment by the RPA to producer organisations has been "postponed" - in other words, they are not currently being paid. It is hard not to assume that the reason for this is that a now very risk-averse DEFRA is afraid that to do so at all may result in further EU fines.
November 9th 2010 ~ The latest EU fine for RPA errors made between 2005 and 2007 brings the total that the Government has paid out in late-payment fees to nearly £200 million in five years.
See Yorkshire Post "...Farming leaders expressed their disappointment at the fine, the second that the Government has received this year, having been charged £15.9m in March for similar infractions.... the fact that the UK Government is still being penalized over the farm payments fiasco will be of great concern to farmers struggling with volatile markets and high overheads, particularly as some are still owed money from as long ago as 2005."
Richard Wordsworth, the National Farmers' Union single payment scheme adviser, is quoted:
" The true picture of the cost of the delivery of the SPS is yet to be known as claims are still being finalised that date back to 2005 and there are still monies outstanding to farmers. The key point is that these were late payments or overspends, and not incorrect payments. We remain concerned over the impact that the late payments have had on our members affected by poor administration and on farm businesses across the country."The Yorkshire Post concludes, "The late payments to farmers were only part of the fiasco, with thousands being overpaid or underpaid, often by considerable amounts. At one stage the agency was forced to admit it did not know exactly how much it had overpaid to farmers."
August 2010 ~ "How accurate a picture do you, at senior level, have about what is really going on?"
Re-reading the extraordinary series of questions and "answers" when Dame Helen Ghosh, Katrina Williams and Tony Cooper were attempting to justify the continuing existence of the RPA (pdf), one comes upon this sort of exchange:
Q263 Lynne Jones: How accurate a picture do you, at senior level, have about what is really going on? In January 2008 you said that you were on top of things, and that proved not to be the case. Do you really know what is going on within your own Agency, within your own Department, in terms of what the Agency is telling you?Hardly surprising that, after a few more moments of this sort of thing, David Taylor was saying,
Dame Helen Ghosh: I think in January 2008 that was a very specific statement in relation to overpayments. That was what we said we thought we were getting close to pinning down, and I think a lot of work went on through 2008, but, rather as the discussion we were having earlier, with every stone you place down, as it were, you turn another one up and you discover, for all sort of reasons to do with the complexity of the system, and (back to Mr Taylor's point) the management information you have not got, you discover that the ground has shifted. So I think that statement was only in relation to overpayments. In fact, I think the Agency recovered something like £25 million in overpayments in 2008, so we did take work forward, but we then discovered additional problems. I think that is the challenge that we have, which is why this exercise to say, "Enough, let us draw a line under that and get a complete picture and move on", is so important.
Q264 Lynne Jones: Do you think you have now got a complete picture of what the issues are, or are we waiting until the review?
Dame Helen Ghosh: What we are waiting for (and, as Katrina said, it will be with us in a matter of weeks) is that by January we will be able to report to the House on what the findings of that review are.
".... Of all the answers I have heard from civil servants over 13 years in this place that is the pantheon, the silver medallist."Tony Cooper has departed. But there seems something all too permanent about the position of the permanent secretary.
July 29th 2010 ~ RPA and DEFRA blamed by the National Audit Office for the £millions of public money lost from the country in order to pay EU fines
On July 27th the NAO refused to endorse the accounts of DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). As the Farmers Guardian says today, its latest report reveals that the EU Commission imposed disallowance penalties of £160 million, including £132m related to the SPS in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
"Defra's accounts also include provision for a further £220 million of disallowance penalties, including £171m for the SPS in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The NAO said the penalties, which result in UK money disappearing back to EU coffers, have been incurred 'as a direct result of weaknesses in the management and administration' of the RPA.NAO head Amyas Morse is quoted: "This is the second time we have qualified the accounts of Defra on regularity grounds. Material sums have been used for purposes not intended by Parliament, in this case paying penalties for maladministration to the European Commission." Professor Colin Talbot told Public Finance that some Whitehall departments still did not have qualified professionals running their finance departments."This does matter, quite a lot. We're talking about discrepancies of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money." (See pdf file. NAO report July 27 2010)
July 27th 2010 ~ DEFRA appoints interim RPA chief
See Farmers Weekly reports that "....Dr (Richard) Judge, who is currently chief executive of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science will take up the role from 2 August." Richard Judge is currently chief executive of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. He will take over as interim chief executive on Monday (August 2).
July 20th 2010 ~ Executive Summary of today's Report says RPA "stuck in the past"
"..Surprising," says the Report, "that, since all of the issues and gaps have been present for so long and reported on before, no intervention or remedial actions had been taken by RPA...The review process was made unnecessarily difficult by the RPA leadership resisting its commencement
......This review has produced huge consistency in the findings and opinions from The Programme Director, Deloitte and PWC. There is a strong concurrence with the NAO findings of last summer. (i.e.National Audit Office see below)
"....RPA seems stuck in the past, whereby it was acceptable to focus on payment value and speed, to the cost of quality. Some corners might have needed to be cut in 2006 and 2007 whilst the organisation was turning late payment matters around; it is unacceptable that these same corners are still being cut in 2010.Jim Paice (see FWi) says his top priority will be to "maintain front line operations and levels of service to the agency's customers" (sic)
The review findings conclude that RPA is not well run and currently not fit to take on and succeed with any initiatives for 2013, without significant changes. However, there is no reason to believe that a scrapping of RPA with a complete new start would produce a fit for purpose organisation any faster or at any lower cost to the public purse. Much of the necessary raw material exists within RPA, it just needs a strategy to normalise RPA and a focus on the cost of its work to the public purse. The gaps in financial controls, management information and governance that are well below the acceptable minimum standard for a public sector organisation and especially one handling £2.3bn of public money..." Read report
July 20th 2010 ~ The Rural Payments Agency's use of funds on advertising, public relations, consultants/contractors, bonuses, entertainment and overtime
A question by the LibDem, Tim Farron, yesterday (Hansard) revealed that during the last financial year 2009-2010, £164,903 was spent on "advertising", £94,014 was spent on public relations, £50,000 was spent on "entertainment" at meetings, and £25 million on "consultants and contractor staff costs".
As for "overtime" - the table suggests that the £2.5 million paid out is to be multiplied by a million. Can this be possibly be right?
July 14th 2010 ~ Tony Cooper, the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, is to quit his post at the end of month
According to the Farmers Guardian he has announced he is to take early retirement "for personal reasons".
Figures released following a Freedom of Information request revealed that Mr Cooper's expenses claims for 2008-09 included £3,138 for business-class flights abroad and £9,361 for 1st or Business Class tickets on UK trains . He also claimed £3,306 for private mileage and £13,320 for hotel accommodation in the UK. In 2007-08, he claimed £34,987, which included £10,066 for travel and £15,244 for accommodation. Jim Paice, who was the Tories' shadow agriculture minister in February, was quoted in that month by the Western Morning News:
"That does seem a very large amount of money. It needs to be examined by the National Audit Office. We need to ensure that it's not being incurred unnecessarily. I don't see why any of his travel should be outside Europe. It should only be possibly to see how other countries are doing the job better."Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, was also quoted:
"£40,000 is a huge amount of money - almost twice the average salary in the UK. Quango bosses shouldn't be claiming such extravagant amounts, especially when they haven't been performing effectively."
May 8th 2010 ~ RPA blueprint should be torn up to start again, say farming leaders
Following a meeting with RPA chief Tony Cooper and Defra minister Lord Davies over the single payment scheme (SPS) and mapping issues, the heads of the National Farmers' Union, Country Land and Business Association, and the Tenant Farmers' Association expressed their frustration and dissatisfaction. Although making it clear that they were not criticising front line RPA staff who were doing their best to help "anxious and frustrated" farmers the leaders said that RPA figures and statements did not reflect their members' reports about lack of maps, incorrect data, missing fields, contradictions between inspection findings and issued maps, and amendments not shown on re-issued maps or SP5 forms.April 21st 2010 ~ RPA mapping - a show of frustrated hands at the NFU Council meeting is "a barometer for the industry and the problems that are out there."
"Our concerns and criticisms are entirely reserved for senior management of the RPA and those in Defra responsible for its performance"Read article at www.darlingtonandstocktontimes.co.uk
The Farmers Weekly reports on the ongoing anger and frustration for what members of the NFU have called the Rural Payments Agency's "manmade bureaucratic incompetence". Members have been left without any maps, inaccurate mapping, incomplete paperwork or are tied in knots trying to get through the labyrinth RPA call centre.
On Twitter, the Farmers Guardian journalist, Johann Tasker, suggests that "someone at NFU Council should phone RPA helpline while RPA chiefs are in the room to show them how long it takes to get a response..."
April 14th 2010 ~ "Re RPA - I find them very, very helpful.."
Kind words at last for the beleaguered RPA, received here this morning from a Herefordshire farmer. We are happy to give this message an airing since this site has been very critical of the RPA since 2006. He writes:
"I should add that for many years I struggled with all aspects of Agricultural bureaucracy, especially that surrounding grant aid and subsidy, which seemed to operate on a 'need to know' basis, ie the recipients knew the system, how to apply, what they received and when, and to all others it was a closed book, so not much use to new entrants.
Eventually the system seems to work out who is genuine, and who shouldn't really get taxpayers' dosh, meanwhile getting irate with them doesn't help. It may be that I am retained as a 'useful fool' to say nice things about them, but I can only speak as I find."
April 13th 2010 ~ "Is it a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted?"
The Rural Payments Agency has been ordered to cut the amount it spends on processing payments to farmers. See www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk (source is the Yorkshire Post) "The agency will have to shave 15 per cent off its costs and must improve its absence rates and reduce the number of errors it makes in the distribution of payments. But is it a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted?...."
March 26th 2010 ~ "It remains a scandal that... fines for late payments by the Rural Payments Agency amount to £90 million. Does the Minister not accept that the money would have been better spent on ensuring fair competition for our farmers, particularly when it comes to imports?"
Yesterday's debate on "Competetiveness in farming" (or as Jim Fitzpatrick puts it "agri-food sector in partnership with the supply chain") Extract:
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): As has already been pointed out, the competitiveness of farming has been affected by the appalling record and performance of the Rural Payments Agency. There has been considerable investment in IT, but it has failed to remedy all the failures. What steps has the Minister taken to improve the efficiency of operations managers in the RPA, so that they can balance resources to meet their work loads and thence deliver improved performance for their customers?(Hansard)
Jim Fitzpatrick: The RPA is under extreme pressure to ensure that it makes efficiency savings...we want to make sure that we have an even smoother passage in terms of concluding the mapping this year and next year's payments. .." (but see one farmer's experience with RPA mapping below)
March 18th 2010 ~ " If Smiley's people cannot handle the likes of IBM, how on earth can the minnows who run the RPA do so?"
Yesterday's debate on the RPA. This was Mr. Liddell-Grainger at full blast:
"..computers? No. MAFF and DEFRA hired a global giant to advise and equip them for the digital age. They signed up with IBM.... IBM may be huge and it may be rich, but it ought to carry a health warning. It has been involved in so many Government computer contracts that go wrong that it is embarrassing. It promises the earth and always charges the earth, but its products rarely do what it says on the tin.More
IBM was hired to provide the back-up for MAFF and DEFRA. When the Rural Payments Agency came along, IBM designed the mapping technology, too. Everything depends on having good maps in this game. Maps provide the proof that officials need before they can arrange farm payments. We all know that that is so: that is the system. But the technology does not work properly. Farmers found that there were errors; the errors affected how much money they got; and things became chaotic. Guess what-they start again from scratch. They are still compiling detailed mapping. The system is wildly behind schedule.
Many other European Governments allow farmers to alter their maps online, but not here. Why not? We do not because we cannot, because IBM cannot make the system work..
...In 2003, the RPA hired Accenture. In 2004, Accenture won IBM's business partner leadership award. Both companies swear by a second-rate system called SAP....Let me remind the Chamber of some up-to-date news. It emerged this week that a secret national communication system called SCOPE, which was intended to keep 007 and his mates in touch, has collapsed. That is nothing to do with the RPA, but the principle is the same. Its system, which was designed by IBM, did not work and so far the Government have failed to get a brass farthing back. In fact, they are still paying.
If Smiley's people cannot handle the likes of IBM, how on earth can the minnows who run the RPA do so? They are out of their depth when they try. As with every Department, they lacked the internal know-how. That is not a criticism; it is a fact. They only thing that they contributed was a fancy name...."
March 17th 2010 ~ Jim Fitzpatrick has apologised to affected farmers after 500 SPS 2010 application forms were sent out incorrectly.
Alistair Driver in the Farmers Guardian today:
"The Rural Payments Agency began sending the forms out last Thursday (March 11). Due to an error at the printing and packing house, 500 farmers received the correct covering letter but somebody else's pre-populated application form. Defra said the RPA immediately stopped posting application forms on discovering the error and put in place additional checks to prevent the error re-occurring. The agency is now contacting claimants who received the wrong application forms and whose details were mistakenly sent out...
... the error is being blamed on the printers.."
February 18th 2010 ~ In December, the EFRA Committee took evidence on the functioning of the Rural Payments Agency:
The question at this point was: "Is the IT system fit for purpose now?"
Dame Helen Ghosh: It is a system which can cope with the single payment and the other calls on it, but it will not be a system that, looking forward to 2013 and CAP reform...Other suggestions to Farmers Weekly of examples of gobbledegook can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q153 Chairman: That was not the question I asked. The question I asked was: is it fit for purpose now? "Now" is 2009 moving to 2010.
Dame Helen Ghosh: I was answering that, I thought, and to the next question. It is good enough
Q154 Chairman: The next question will come next. I want to ask the current question
Dame Helen Ghosh: It is good enough for now. It still presents, because of the way it was operated, inevitably, in an emergency context in 2006, issues in getting data and audit trails of the historic kind we need, looking back at 2005, out of it, but in terms of processing payments now it is good enough I do not know if Tony would like to comment on that....
(From an uncorrected transcript of evidence- not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings.)
Feb 9 2010 ~ Tim Farron: "How many single payment scheme claims made in 2009 remain outstanding?"
Hansard yesterday Jim Fitzpatrick As at 31 January 2010, out of the total SPS claimant population of 107,500, approximately 12,800 have not received a payment because their claim is still undergoing the necessary validation checks.
February 9th 2010 ~ Public Administration Select committee "deeply concerned" by DEFRA's refusal to compensate farmers
The story below (new window) about DEFRA's defiance to Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, following her finding that there was maladministration by the RPA in the implementation of the 2005 Single Payment Scheme has now led to the PASC Select Committee telling Mr Benn to "take another look" The Labour MP Tony Wright, chairman of the public administration select committee, says in a letter to Mr Benn, that the committee was "mystified" about why the Government will not pay out and that the reasons with which DEFRA tries to explain its position "give the impression of a Department looking for arguments to dispute the Ombudsman's findings." He spoke of DEFRA's
"taking an adversarial rather than a common-sense, compassionate approach to people who have undoubtedly suffered injustice..... The Ombudsman's job is to be an independent, expert investigator where citizens complain that they have suffered injustice as a result of public bodies providing a poor service. The Government's response ought to be based on a presumption that the Ombudsman has got it right, particularly as in this case where the Ombudsman has had no shortage of opportunity to consider the Government's views on her draft findings before she has finalised her report. It does not seem to us that Defra has been working from this standpoint.Hopes that DEFRA was on its way to becoming a more human department since the grim days of FMD seem doomed to disappointment. Read the text of PASC's letter to Hilary Benn in full
January 26 2010 ~"The big problem is - and we see this time and time again - is the RPA computer system."
Farmers Weekly reports that thousands of producers are still waiting to receive money - some of it from previous years.
"NFU president Peter Kendall is writing to DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn about the issue, which is causing cash flows on farms. It was important that ministers were made aware of delays caused by the Rural Payments Agency... NFU single payment adviser, Richard Wordsworth, said a significant number of farmers had still not been paid in full for 2007 and 2008. Some 16,000 claims had still not been settled for 2009, Mr Wordsworth said. At the same time, some 3000 upland claims continued to be reassessed and readjusted following changes to the moorland line as long ago as 2004."The paper reports that the RPA said it was hoping to rectify the situation by the end of February, with payments sent out to farmers by the end of March. Mr Wordsworth is quoted as saying it was " unacceptable for problems to continue five years after the introduction of the single payment scheme."
January 12 2010 ~ "..while farmers were left waiting for their Single Farm Payment the RPA was shelling out millions in bonuses." Jim Paice
The Yorkshire Post quotes Jim Paice after it reveals that the RPA has paid its staff £1.85m in bonuses since 2005, more than £500,000 being awarded in 2008-09 alone. The paper's article discusses the figures - published just a few weeks after the RPA was criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO - see below) Tim Farron is also quoted:
"With the average hill farmer earning just £5,000 a year, it's hard to justify the extravagant amounts being paid to these civil servants. But what makes these figures all the more unbelievable is some of the high-profile errors made by Defra within the last year, particularly the loss of 100,000 farmers' bank details by the Rural Payments Agency. Questions must be asked as to whether Defra's top brass really represent value for money for Britain's farmers. Surely the amount it costs to pay their wages could be put to better use by investing in a hill farm apprenticeship scheme to provide the next generation of upland farmers."An RPA spokeswoman said: "The RPA made bonus payments to a range of individuals, from processing staff to managers based on achievement and following the end of year performance reviews. A Special Recognition Scheme running since 2007 exists to recognise additional or outstanding contributions from individuals."
December 19 2009 ~ front-line staff "courteous and as helpful as they possibly could" "... the real failure to deliver lay far above them, at a senior level"
The Eastern Daily Press today reports on Hilary Benn and DEFRA's defiance over the order of Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, for a hand-written apology and that £5,500 compensation be paid to an East Anglian farmer, revealed by the paper to be a north Norfolk farmer, Alister Borthwick.
"Over four years, Defra's Rural Payment Agency was found guilty of official maladministration and incompetence for causing significant financial loss, stress and heartache to a sample two farmers....Ann Abraham, has published her findings into the mishandling of the single farm payment saga in an almost unprecedented report to Parliament. She also said that all 22 farmers had received "cold comfort" as Defra disputed her findings and proposed making "consolatory payments" of just £500 to each complainant. ..."The paper says Mr Borthwick's problems began in early 2005 when the RPA were unable to issue correct maps
"They took 17 attempts to get the maps right, it was quite extraordin-ary. We'd get one field correct, and then I would ask for a complete print-out of the farm so I could enter the (environmental) entry level stewardship scheme or ELS. Then they send the map back with the same errors in again. And it went on..."The experience had scarred his family and as a result, his son, Jason, had decided not to join him on the farm.He also had had to make a member of staff redundant. He is quoted by the EDP:
"Basically Defra set the rules, and we have to stick to our side of the rules, when they don't stick to their side of the rules, there seems to be no sanction against them. I've got lever-arch files full of letters. To find maladministration on such a scale is astounding and it went on for years. I have a record of every telephone conversation I've had with RPA and all the people I've spoken to. It is a very sad reflection on where we have got to. I just find it so one-sided, it is unbelievable. We keep getting reminders from the RPA to submit our claim by May 15, or we will be fined."He said that the RPA's individual front-line staff had been "courteous and as helpful as they possibly could" in the circumstances. "However, I had the overwhelming impression that, try as an individual might, the real failure to deliver lay far above them, at a senior level."
The Ombudsman's full report is here (159 pages)
December 16 2009 ~ Ombudsman says DEFRA has not accepted her recommendations in full
The Parliamentary Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of recommending that the Rural Payments Agency apologises and pays compensation to two farmers who were left without grant payments owed to them by the public body - but DEFRA has not complied. Ann Abrahams is quoted by several papers (see Google news) and the BBC:
"Important principles are at stake here. My view is that an appropriate remedy should be forthcoming where injustice has been suffered as a consequence of maladministration by a public body. It ... saddens me that a public body refuses to provide relatively modest financial remedy for substantive injustice to people."
December 16 2009 ~ RPA: "disastrous IT system, poor management, delays in payments the biggest debacle in the committee's history..." says Public Accounts Committee
Edward Leigh has criticised DEFRA's complacency in failing to spot problems within the RPA and allowing millions of pounds of public money to be wasted. The Committee has told the RPA to report on how it is meeting concerns addressed by the National Audit Office in October.
In October, the National Audit Office had called into question the lack of senior management ownership of the scheme and had said the Rural Payments Agency and DEFRA had "shown scant regard to protecting public money in their administration and management of the EU's Single Payment Scheme in England" Since April 2005 the RPA had
"... incurred additional administration costs of £304 million as a result of needing more staff than anticipated in the 2005 business case for the scheme, adding that since April 2005, the RPA had incurred additional administration costs of £304 million as a result of needing more staff than anticipated in the 2005 business case for the scheme, it had had to set aside £280 million for disallowance and penalties, and anticipated that a further £43 million of overpayments would be irrecoverable. The IT upgrades and maintenance since 2007, cost £130 million, had resulted in heavy customisation of an IT system that has now cost £350 million in total, with complex software that is expensive and reliant on contractors to maintain. With many of the Agency's contracts for ongoing support due to end in 2009, there is an increased risk of obsolescence."This latest report from the Public Accounts Committee (see Farmers Weekly) quotes Edward Leigh as saying,
"Considerable responsibility must lie at DEFRA's door..DEFRA has either not grasped the seriousness of what has been happening or been reluctant to face up to problems."
December 11 2009 ~ Masterclass in misadministration?
On October 30 we posted an exchange about the RPA late payment problems suffered by Mr Peter Philpot who farms near Billericay. Hilary Benn had said to Mr Philpot's MP, John Baron,
"I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman gave me the details of his constituent, in order to pursue that case. It is precisely for this reason that we announced in September a review of the RPA, so we can learn the lessons and improve the service to the level that farmers have a right to expect."Yesterday's Hansard recorded Mr Baron's polite reminder that the details asked for were
"sent the same day, but since then neither my constituent nor my office have heard anything. Will Ministers consider the matter again as a matter of urgency? Otherwise, we can only draw the conclusion that the RPA is nothing more than a master-class in misadministration."
December 11 2009 ~ Churlish.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Ministers have announced that 80 per cent. of payments under the single payment scheme have been made to farmers, but given that we have estimated overpayments of more than £20 million and underpayments of more than £38 million in the scheme last year, what guarantees can the Minister give farmers that 2009 payments will be accurate?
Jim Fitzpatrick: It is a little churlish of the shadow Secretary of State not to welcome the once again improved performance of the Rural Payments Agency. It has been improving year on year, and this year it managed to pay out £1.3 billion, which is almost twice as much as last year, two weeks earlier than last year to four times as many farmers. From our point of view, that should be complimented and lauded.
December 4 2009 ~ growers wondering whether the RPA is going to stop their producer organisation (PO) grants for good.
RPA payments have been suspended for all UK Producer organisations while DEFRA decides on a new policy. The issue concerns EU rules about shared facilities but at a meeting last week DEFRA was unable to give a timescale for their investigations - meaning, says Grower Bulletin, "that growers are still unable to plan ahead for next year because they do not know whether or not they will receive any money in future. Stephen Francis, managing director of Fen Peas, was quoted: "There will be those who are safe and who will have their payments resumed, those who may pass as long as more information is provided and those who are in trouble." He added that the RPA gave growers little indication as to which POs it is most concerned about.
December 3 2009 ~ DEFRA's £5m review of the RPA "not a cynical PR exercise to make people love the RPA"
The Farmers Weekly says that £5m is to be spent. It will
"..give RPA staff an indication of which areas they should target to improve the system.."Helen Ghosh, DEFRA's permanent secretary, insisted the agency was "getting to a good place" claiming that "England's single payment system was ahead of its time in comparison with other EU countries". In September, the director general for food and farming, Katrina Williams, denied the review was being carried out in response to problems with the latest mapping exercise - but the mapping difficulties are just one of the of problems that have dogged the RPA. Ms Williams was quoted by the FWi on September 2: "It's not a cynical PR exercise to make people love the RPA. It's a genuine piece of work to make sure the organisation is on a good footing."
The Western Morning News today says that Michael Jack is wondering why two firms of accountants - PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Deloittes - had been hired to work on the report and what they.could achieve
" that two internal reviews, and countless reports by the National Audit Office and cross-party Commons committees could not.Read WMN article in full
In a withering attack on the lack of progress made, Mr Jack said last night: "Here we are towards the end of 2009 going over it all over again."
December 1 2009 ~ The EU payment window runs between December 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010.
The Farmers Guardian reports on the relative efficiency of payments in England Wales and Scotland. "More than 84 per cent of Welsh farmers received Single Farm Payments totalling over £205 million on Tuesday, as the EU payment window opened. This surpassed last year's figure and is in addition to the 258 advance payments worth about £5 million paid out in mid October to farmers affected by the demise of Dairy Farmers of Britain. ..
In Scotland, almost 14,000 farmers, around 75 per cent of eligible claimants, will receive Single Payments worth over £400m this week. By the end of December, around 20,000 farmers, 90 per cent of claimants, will have been paid £460m, the Scottish Government is predicting.
In England, the Rural Payments Agency is expecting to improve on last year's performance when 69,000 farmers, around 60 per cent of claimants were paid nearly £1 billion by the end of December. The agency said it was working towards meeting its formal targets of making 75 per cent of payments, by value, by the end of January and 90 per cent by the end of March. .."
November 13 2009 ~ "My fear is that it is a cost-cutting exercise rather than a response to efficiency.."
Fifty staff are to lose their jobs at the Rural Payments Agency's Carlisle office. They all work on processing single farm payment claims and are on temporary contracts of between two to four years. Their contracts are due to come to an end between January and March and won't be renewed. Eden Bridge House in Lowther Street, Carlisle, is one of six RPA sites in the country. The News and Star quotes Russell Bowman, Cumbria's NFU chairman:
"If they are reducing staff numbers because they are running the Single Payment Scheme in a more streamlined way, that's understandable. "If they can deliver the scheme on time and in full without these staff then it could be justified but if it is just cost-cutting by the RPA and farmers will have a poorer service then it is not acceptable. My fear is that it is a cost-cutting exercise rather than a response to efficiency."The paper says that since the single payment scheme began there have been more the £680m in "unforeseen additional costs" including £304m in extra staff costs and £280m which had to paid to the European Commission for errors in administration and penalties for late payments - but the review also found that payments to farmers had become more prompt, with more than 96 per cent of 2008 claims paid by mid May 2009, compared to 80 per cent by the same month for the 2006 scheme.
October 30 2009 ~ "....far too long to resolve a number of late payments"
Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): May I press the Secretary of State on the Rural Payments Agency? He will know that it has taken far too long to resolve a number of late payments under the single payment scheme. Many farmers throughout the country are suffering as a result, including my constituent Mr. Peter Philpot. I urge the Secretary of State to press forward with the reforms and get these payments sorted out now, for the sake not only of my constituent but of farmers throughout the country.
Hilary Benn: I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman gave me the details of his constituent, in order to pursue that case. It is precisely for this reason that we announced in September a review of the RPA, so we can learn the lessons and improve the service to the level that farmers have a right to expect.
October 29 2009 ~"DEFRA knew about this and did nothing..."
The Rural Payments Agency lost confidential data belonging to anyone who has ever claimed a single farm payment. An extraordinary story is revealed this morning by Caroline Stocks at the Farmers Weekly. It seems that computer tapes containing the bank details, addresses, passwords and security questions of more than 100,000 farmers were discovered missing in May after they were transferred from RPA offices in Reading to Newcastle. Although DEFRA was alerted straight away - " it is Farmers Weekly's understanding that" DEFRA made no attempt to inform anyone and that the agency itself only discovered the problem in September. Whistle-blowers were concerned that the RPA and DEFRA would not reveal the risks to farmers and they
"claim DEFRA tried to cover the error and it was only realised by the RPA in September when annual data checks were carried out. One source said the tapes had not been encrypted as they should have been - a step which would secure the data so it could not be accessed if it fell into the wrong hands.". Two of the missing tapes still remain unaccounted for. According to Fwi the DEFRA spokeswoman said that a thorough search had been conducted to find the missing material and concluded that some tapes were "misfiled and placed on the wrong shelf'" She blamed "bad book-keeping" by IBM, who run the data centre and who were contra ted as IT consultants by the RPA. DEFRA says it assumed that the two tapes that were never found must have been destroyed..." One of the whistle-blowers is quoted:
"I know people at the middle management level tried to advise senior civil servants to do the right thing and tell farmers, but they're not listening. It's symptomatic of the senior managers. There are a lot of good people working in the lower levels of the organisation, but we think the top-level board is rotten to the core."DEFRA has admitted its data was not encrypted. Read FWI article in full.
October 15 2009 ~ Single Farm Payment fiasco is condemned by the National Audit Office
As reported on the front page of today's Western Morning News, the NAO has once again expressed its deep concern about the RPA. In December 2007 Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, commenting on his report of 2006, said, "....the implementation of the Single Payment Scheme... until the agency is in the position consistently to meet the June deadline each year and can process payments within an acceptable tolerance of error, the risk is that farmers' confidence in the scheme will wane and the European Commission will levy financial penalties."
This month, the NAO is singling out the agency's £350 million computer system for criticism, describing it as "complex, expensive and at risk of obsolescence". Although most farmers last year were paid earlier the NAO said that this was overshadowed by spiralling costs. It calculated that the average cost per claim is £1,743, an increase of 22 per cent on the 2005 scheme. The Scottish system, widely seen as being far simpler, costs just £285 per claim. An additional £304 million was spent in the past four years on staff not accounted for in the RPA's initial business plan. Since 2005, the RPA has also had to set aside £280 million for withdrawn payments and penalties, and has written off £43 million worth of overpayments. Edward Leigh, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, is quoted:
"The RPA's hallmarks are "lamentable" communication with farmers and "shoddy bookkeeping"
"The Rural Payments Agency's administration of the Single Payment Scheme for paying EU grants to farmers has been a masterclass of misadministration. It sends letters completely out of the blue demanding back large sums which it has overpaid, causing considerable distress, and, in some cases, it has transpired that the farmer actually owes nothing at all."
September 3 2009 ~ RPA faces inquiry
It seems that a review, headed by Director General of the Food and Farming Group within DEFRA, is going to examine the running of the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), identifying where improvements and efficiencies can be made. Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, president of the Country Land and Business Association, is quoted by the Western Morning News: "....matters have got a lot better since Tony Cooper took over as chief executive," he said but he added that the review had been "too long coming. English farmers have been in the hands of one of the worst agencies in the UK and one that is among the slowest in the EU in making SPS payments."
August 3 2009 ~ DEFRA spent half a billion pounds on consultants and temporary staff
We now learn from Farmers Weekly that in 2007-2008,
" DEFRA spent more than half a billion pounds on consultants and temporary staff in just one year... More than £80.8m of that was spent on temporary staff and consultants to help the RPA sort out and pay farmers' single payments.A spokesman from the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents DEFRA staff is quoted:
On top of the bill, DEFRA spent a further £449.3m on "other" professional services."
"There's quite clearly a body of work that needs to be done. A far more cost-effective way would be to employ people on a permanent basis to do that work. Those staff don't see all of their hourly wage - a proportion of it goes to the recruitment agency. You have to ask if this is sensible."
July 28 2009 ~ "criticised for its financial management generally, and especially for its poor management of the single payments scheme for farmers."
Over one third of all RPA claims cost more to process than they were worth, says John Redwood. "The scheme was much delayed and the error level was high..." John Redwood in "Defra - the home of the quango and the management consultant"
July 23 2009 ~ £21.4 million (covering the period January 2007 to April 2010) to complete a new set of maps
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for what reasons the Rural Payments Agency decided to issue a new set of maps in connection with claims for payments under the single payment scheme; and what estimate he has made of the likely cost of doing so. [R] 
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is in the process of updating land information used to support the Single Payment Scheme and other direct support schemes. The programme of work is under way to deliver the up-to-date geographic information system, required under EU regulations following criticism in European Commission audits which has the potential to result in financial penalties (disallowance). It is calculated that approximately 5 per cent. of land parcels change every year.
RPA has projected a budget of £21.4 million (covering the period January 2007 to April 2010) to complete the programme of work which includes updating the Rural Land Register (RLR) data with the latest mapping information and confirming the link between each land parcel and a specific claimant; the strategy, necessary IT infrastructure and capability to update the RLR regularly and systematically in future to ensure it meets regulatory requirements and can support further service enhancements such as electronic access.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by what date farmers are required to notify the Rural Payments Agency of amendments in relation to the new set of maps issued in connection with claims for payment
21 July 2009 : Column 1168W
under the single payment scheme; and within what time period the Rural Payments Agency will be required to confirm such amendments. [R] 
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is asking farmers to respond within 28 days of receiving their updated maps. The agency appreciates this is a busy time of year and that farmers with a large number of land parcels may need more time to check their maps. In these circumstance farmers are asked to contact the RPA and agree an extended response date.
Map amendments received by RPA within the 28-day period will be reviewed and, once accepted, should be confirmed in a new set of maps sent to the farmer approximately six to eight weeks later. Any map amendments sent in after the 28-day period will take longer to be accepted and confirmed.
The mapping update is being done now as the application period for the 2009 Single Payment Scheme (SPS) has passed and before the payment window opens. The updated maps should be used to pre-populate the 2010 SPS application forms.
June 30 2009 ~ More than 900 farmers are now believed to have been sent inaccurate maps that threaten to leave them unable to claim subsidy payments
The NFU Council has been meeting officials from the RPA today. Johann Tasker (chief reporter for Farmers Weekly) on Twitter has described ".. farmers lambasting civil servants at NFU council meeting over inaccurate maps sent out by Rural Payments Agency." Fascinating to see all this in almost real time.
19 December 2008 ~ RPA in 'overpayments' shocker says NFU
From the PoultrySite News Desk "The RPA has paid £20m too much -£15m in the last few days - £5m overpaid on June.
Some of the overpaid cheques have been cancelled. Other money is being recovered from farmers.
This comes on the back of announcements from Defra which is making £200m worth of cuts...
Peter Kendall is quoted:
"From the phone calls we have been receiving this is no shock. We are aware that some farmers have been over paid but we are alarmed by the number of people who have been underpaid as well. The RPA has a mountain to climb and this still has to be sorted. We want to make sure farmers are treated sensibly so they can put their finances in order as soon as possible. I am glad to see they RPA has shown it can act quickly but I want to see the same speed of action in making sure those who have been under paid are paid what they are owed. Lots of farmers have not received any money at all and we want to make sure farmers are given the money they are entitled to.See also Western Morning News, the Telegraph and Farmers Weekly FWi.
September 12 2008 ~ "I think that you do have a tradition of being a rather bureaucratic and top heavy department. Do you really need in the Rural Payments Agency the best part of 5,000 civil servants to manage payments, subsidies, given to just over 100,000 farmers?"
The part of the public Accounts Committee report that dealt with Defra's handling of the RPA includes a question from the Chairman, Edward Leigh: " I know we have had this conversation before but I just cannot resist asking you again."
Helen Ghosh replied: "... the plan is that we will significantly reduce that number of people..... Tony Cooper has been able to identify I think more than 200 additional staffthat he can now lose because of the improvement programme there. Again, the NAO Report made clear that by the end of the CSR 07 period, it is expecting to have lost at least another 1,000 staff, operating on SPS (Single Payments Scheme)...."
Thursday 17th July 2008 ~ RPA officials paid more than £175,000 in farm subsidies to a Norfolk farming family - and then two years later asked for the money back.
Food East's article makes even those of us who have been following the chaos of the Rural Payments Agency (see RPA page) feel utter incredulity.
On Tuesday, the Public Accounts Committee released a 44-page progress report. Food East reports that "...staff made two sets of 19 payments of more than £50,000 to the same claimants and the Defra agency has only issued two invoices demanding repayment of this overpaid £1m." British taxpayers will have to fund a total of about £348m in fines from the European Commission for RPA failures.
Edward Leigh is quoted in the Farmers Guardian: "The Rural Payments Agency's poor implementation of the Single Payment Scheme continues to cause problems for farmers. Most are being paid earlier than they were in 2005 but errors persist." Apparently, nearly 20,000 farmers' entitlements under the 2005 and 2006 schemes were calculated incorrectly and overpayments to farmers in those two years totalled some £37 million. Individual farmers who were overpaid in error have not yet been told how and when they are to pay it back.
May 8 2008 ~ Thousands of farmers still waiting for their single farm payment for last year.
According to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), about 9,000 farmers in England are owed a total of £190million. Annabelle Morshead, North- East chairman of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), is still waiting for her payment. She said: "I find it completely unacceptable that we are going through this again. It is causing huge problems, coming on the back of an appalling spring, rising prices and the aftermath of draconian foot and mouth restrictions." A spokeswoman for the North- East National Farmers' Union (NFU) said some farmers had been told they would not be paid until November. More at the Northern Echo.
Jan 25 2008 ~ Private Eye 1202 25.1 - 7.2.08 Down on the Farm
"It's often said that the best way to hide embarrassing political information is to publish it in a written parliamentary answer. And so it was when the independent Labour peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, tried to find out recently how much had been lost to taxpayers by DEFRA's almighty cock-up in failing to pass on EU farming subsidies to English farmers in 2005 and 2006.
This column has reported several times on what must be one of the most grotesque examples of maladministration any British government has ever been caught out in. 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.
January 10 2008 ~ £63 million has already been paid in EU fines for late SFP payments; National Audit Office has warned the bill could reach £292 million.
At a time of stringent cost cutting on the ground, there is some anger today after news that 25 top DEFRA staff are paid more than £100,000. (In 2002 only eight of the Defra civil servants received such salaries.) Michael Jack is quoted in the Western Morning News on the subject of the RPA fiasco and said that "once the full scale of the mess - overseen by the then-Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett - became clear, farmers and people in the countryside would see further cuts to services to help balance the books." of the big pay awards to the top brass he said,
"If it means they have managed to recruit a better quality of senior management able to avoid some of the problems Defra has run into in the past, that might be money well spent. But if it's some of the people with errors on their hands just accumulating more money, farmers would rightly have something to say about that."We await with interest further news. Richard Haddock is quoted as saying " ... things have not got any better on the ground. Since the number of highly paid staff has rocketed, the service has definitely got worse." (See also recent warmwell blog)
December 18 2007 ~ Full Single Payments to begin in England this week
Good news. The FG reports that "....Rural Payments Agency chief executive Tony Cooper had given the green light following a successful pilot run on December 10. The decision means payments have been initiated a month earlier than last year. No indication is given, however, of how many people are to be paid and how much over the coming weeks. Mr Benn said the agency was 'on track' to meet its 2007 SPS targets of paying 75 per cent in value by the end of March and 90 per cent by the end of May..."
December 12 2007 ~ The chaotic Rural Payments Agency could end up costing the taxpayer up to £292 million, it emerged last night.
says the Western Morning News. Although the National Audit Office found that the RPA had made "significant" progress since the fiasco of the first year of the Single Payment Scheme in England, branded "a first-class cock-up" by the chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, it has warned that the RPA "still has more to do" to resolve its problems and remained at risk of further fines from the European Commission over its handling of the scheme. Its report noted that Defra had set aside £292 million to cover any possible EU penalties, up from £139m last year. The WMN reports,
".....Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: "Since my report over a year ago on the implementation of the Single Payment Scheme, the RPA has made encouraging progress in remedying the problems I highlighted, as demonstrated by an increase in farmers' satisfaction with the handling of their claims. "But until the agency is in the position consistently to meet the June deadline each year and can process payments within an acceptable tolerance of error, the risk is that farmers' confidence in the scheme will wane and the European Commission will levy financial penalties."
December 11 2007 ~ DEFRA is not issuing receipts.
Lord Jopling's speech last Thursday had this to say about the RPA:
"Frankly, I am sick to death of successive Ministers coming to Parliament and endlessly repeating phrases such as, "We are doing our best", "We can only apologise", and, "We are learning from mistakes". That is really not good enough.(Debate in full)
Finally, I want to voice a particular concern. I have here a document that refers to some of the environmental programmes, such as the environmental stewardship scheme, the higherlevel stewardship scheme, the entry- level stewardship scheme and the organic entry-level stewardship scheme, as well as the environmentally sensitive areas scheme, of which I claim a certain paternity. The department says:
"It is important to note that these changes mean that we will no longer be acknowledging the receipt of your claim forms or indeed other correspondence".It goes on to say:
"Alternatively, if you require confirmation that your claim has been received, please contact the Incentive Scheme Service Team after 17 September 2007 on one of the following telephone numbers".Anyone who has tried regularly to telephone Defra knows that if ever there was an appropriately named department, with its deaf ears, that is it. I was talking over the weekend to a consultant who helps me considerably at home. He is a person who handles these claim forms and he was telling me of a recent case in which he contacted Defra or the RPA - I forget which - and asked about a form that he had sent in. He was told, "Oh, we've lost it, we haven't had it". He said, "Don't be so silly, here is the receipt you gave me". He also had a copy of the claim. He made the point that farmers could lose thousands of pounds because of the frequent instances of Defra losing claim forms. It is absolutely wrong if Defra is not issuing receipts; certainly some of us in the Chamber today who are former Ministers would never have done that. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will review the ending of issuing receipts? Will he give a particular assurance that it will not apply to the single payment scheme?
November 2007 ~ RPA's minuscule payout calls system into doubt
FWi "The Rural Payments Agency has sent a 2005 SFP cheque for a single penny to a north Devon farmer, raising questions as to whether the agency is using both time and resources efficiently. John Day, who farms 110ha near Barnstaple, Devon, received modulation remittance advice amounting to £0.01. The cheque, which cost 38p in bank charges to deposit, came out of the blue...."
October 2007 ~ RPA effectiveness May 2006 to October 2nd 2007
We publish this anonymously but can vouch for its authenticity
"SP5 submitted 3/5/06There are no words adequate for further comment. The sorry saga continues.
SP5 acknowedged receipt 8/5/06
Entitlements Statement received from RPA dated 22/12/06
No money received by 26/3/07 so e-mailed RPA e-mail acknowledged automatically 26/3/07 No reply by 27/4/07 so e-mailed again automatic acknowledgement 27/4/07 No reply by 25/5/07 so phoned RPA My caseworker said he would look into it No reply by 29/6/07 so phoned again and was told I had never submitted SP5 for 2006 Sent copy of SP5 acknowledgement and Entitlements Statement to RPA on 2/7/07 No response by 23/7/07 so phoned to be told my caseworker had left and my file was empty. Was asked to send copies again which I did on 23/7/07 Phoned on 3/8/07 to be told I had a new caseworker who had no record of my correspondence. Copies sent for third time and acknowledged Phoned on 10/8/07 and was told that my case could not be processed without a replacement SP5 as my original had been totally lost.
Replacement SP5 received in post on 20/8/07 and was completed and returned on 23/8/07 No response by 28/8/07 so phoned for a response and was told that I had a new caseworker who would look into it.
No response by 7/9/07 so phoned again and was told that my documents had been sent to the scanning room but were not yet up on the computer so caseworker could not do any more. She promised to phone and update me on 13/9/07.
No phone call at time promised on 13/9/07 so I phoned to be told that she had not phoned because there was nothing to report.
Phoned again on 17/9/07. Told no further news but phone call promised. Line manager had been informed of problem.
No reply by 1/10/07 so phoned again and was told caseworker was in a training meeting but would phone back.
No reply by 2/10/07 so phoned again. Was told by telephone receptionist that caseworker did not want to talk to me as she had nothing to report. I asked to be put through to her line manager but he was away so asked to be put through to next most senior, and was promised he would look into the whole problem.
Was phoned back!!! after 25 minutes to be reassured that something would be done but at present they could not locate my file."
September 17 ~ "How much money has to be wasted and how many lives ruined ....?"
The Telegraph, reminding us that the famous Crichel Down affair, the big political scandal of 1954, which resulted in the resignation of the Minister of Agriculture, concerned a claim of unfair treatment at the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture. The bone of contention was 725 acres of a farmer's land. It was followed by a public inquiry scathing in its criticisms of official procedures and practices. Sir Thomas Dugdale told Parliament that he took full responsibility for "any mistakes and inefficiency of officials in my department"
That was 1954. This is now.
The shrugging off of responsibility by DEFRA and the government over the RPA scandal and the miserable FMD situation - a situation that could, without any need for "hindsight", have been stopped in its tracks on August 5th by the immediate use of the vaccine that was mere yards away, has seemed to so many of us despicable. And as the Telegraph says of poor, ineffectual but bullying DEFRA, "In the space of a few weeks, it has been accused in two inquiries of such culpability as to make the fuss over Crichel Down seem risible ...Vast sums of money have been wasted and people's lives blighted because of actions taken by or on behalf of ministers, who not only escape responsibility but are often promoted...."
September 6 2007 ~ The government's failure to get EU subsidies to thousands of farmers on time has been called "a master-class in bad decision making" by MPs.
Defra and its Rural Payments Agency failed in the "basic principles" of project implementation, the Commons Public Accounts committee said. See BBC ".... The UK has also set aside £436m in anticipation of possible fines from the European Commission over the administration of the 2005 scheme. Mr Leigh said Johnston McNeill - the former head of the RPA - had failed to confront his bosses at Defra with the "highly risky" project's problems.
He also said the then permanent secretary at Defra, Sir Brian Bender, bore "a large part of the responsibility."
EDP24 says, "...its implementation last year to a near-impossible timetable was a master class in bad decision-making, poor planning, incomplete testing of IT systems, confused lines of responsibility, scant objective management information and a failure by the management team to face up to the unfolding crisis," Mr Leigh said. "The story of the inept handling of the scheme should make a richly rewarding study for senior civil servants across the whole of government for some time to come."
According to the MPs' report, Defra spent £122m to implement a highly-complicated new payment scheme for farmers in England while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all opted for tried-and-tested solutions..
...The decision by Mrs Beckett, later promoted to foreign secretary, to opt for the so-called dynamic hybrid scheme was the first stage in what was described as a "train wreck" about to happen..."
The full report (pdf) The Delays in Administering the 2005 Single Payment Scheme in England can be read here.
July 25 2007 ~"The Government appears to have taken the Pontius Pilate approach and washed their hands of it because it was somebody else's responsibility. On some of the key issues, they have not engaged at all."
The WMN reports, "....The Government took more than three months to respond to a Commons inquiry into the workings of the Rural Payments Agency, which concluded there should have been top-level ministerial and civil service sackings - with former Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett first in the firing line.
The powerful cross-party committee of MPs accused the highest levels of Government of not caring about rural communities, as thousands of farmers teetered on the brink of financial ruin. Mrs Beckett and her officials ploughed on with the project, despite repeated warnings that the new payments system was too complicated, it was claimed.
But the response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, finally published yesterday, offers little in the way of answers and even criticises the select committee for naming civil servants who should "consider their position"...."
July 9 - 14 2007 ~ Continuing frustration at lack of accountability
EDP24 reports that the sacking of Johnston McNeill over the rural payments debacle had cost tax payers more than £250,000 - and he could seek further compensation. As Michael Jack said:
"... On the question of risks, it beggars belief that the Office of Government Commerce did not put the brakes on what was happening. Yes, it produced some reports and red traffic lights, but despite the mounting risks of failure that were pointed out to DEFRA, which had a finger in the pie and an interest in the running of the Rural Payments Agency, and despite a great deal of investigation - I do not know whether the Department was blinded by events or by ministerial assurance that it would all be all right on the night - the wheel fell off big time. When, at the beginning of 2006, Ministers were promising payments first in February and then in March, the Committee produced an interim report warning of what was happening and talking about the need for interim payments, but we were rubbished by Lord Bach. I remember him talking on the "Today" programme about the Select Committee being chaired by a "very strong person, that Michael Jack - he's a Conservative." I resented the fact that he tried to politicise my work as the Chair to highlight the failures and danger points and what was going to happen with the Rural Payments Agency. In fairness to Lord Bach, he retracted some of those remarks when he gave evidence before us. When the wheel fell off, however, DEFRA had not heeded the warnings, and we now know what happened to the rural economy.Mr McNeill said he had only ever had two conversations with then Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett - the second the day before he was suspended. However, her junior minister, Lord Bach, was kept "fully briefed" as the project ran into difficulties.
As for who was responsible and who should have accepted responsibility, the head that rolled was Mr. Johnston McNeill's - it was the agency's former chief executive who was fired. Sir Brian Bender, the former permanent secretary at the Department, whose name was on the documents about the Rural Payments Agency, the DEFRA change programme and the agreement on the path forward, and Mr. Andy Lebrecht, one of the most senior civil servants in the Department - he sat on the management boards of the Rural Payments Agency and, indeed, on DEFRA's own boards and should have been the link - were the people who effectively signed off what happened. Rachel Lomax, who was supposed to be an expert, was brought into the Department to provide advice. Despite all that, there was still failure, but only one person has paid for it with their job. The then Secretary of State went on to become the Foreign Secretary..." Hansard
Mr McNeill went on to insist that he had never been approached about his performance at the Rural Payments Agency prior to his suspension. Asked whether anybody else should have taken some responsibility, he said: "I would really rather not comment."
June 12 2007 ~ " just cannot afford any more time on Mr Miliband's bureaucratic administration of the English interpretation of the CAP"
A Mr Rogers in the Isle of Wight wrote a comment on the BBC's Farming Today page".. The utter incompetence of Dedra's administration continues. I have been attempting to agree the mapping of our holding since Oct 2004. In dealing with the RPA I have communicated with no less than 15 people over this time and in August 2006 achieved agreement, but it cost me over £1000 to employ independent surveyors to confirm our ha.
We still are waiting for full payments for 2005 and 2006, and have had to suffer the frustration and financial penalty of our contractor grabbing our historical payments.
Now we have received a letter from the RPA claiming that we have over-claimed on our SPS application by 43.96% (18.03H) The Mapping section of the RPA confirm our field areas. We are at our wits end and just cannot afford any more time on Mr Miliband's bureaucratic administration of the English interpretation of the CAP. Perhaps it is the governments hidden agenda to kill off the farming industry."
June 6 2007 ~ RPA. Mrs Beckett's legacy lingers on
The Foreign Secretary, instead of accepting that she really should be held accountable, left Lord Rooker, the new Defra minister in the House of Lords, to try to sort out the chaos that is the Single Farm Payment scheme. Following a meeting with him yesterday, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Land and Business Association and the Tenant Farmers' Association have issued a joint statement deploring the "large backlog" of disputed payments going back two years - and have asked that the 2007 payments should at least be paid by the end of this year (they are due now). The Yorks and Dales news reports that
"Support payments to farmers who work common land are lost in a red-tape maze because their rights to do so can go back centuries and are sometimes a matter of legal dispute. After the meeting, Douglas Chalmers, Director of CLA North, commented: "In the North, we are particularly disappointed over the lack of progress on the commons problem. Because the RPA are using an old Commons Register, farmers who have grazed commons for many years are facing hardship and future uncertainty. Resolving who is eligible to receive Single Farm Payment and Hill Farm Allowance on commons has now become an urgent task."
May 28 2007 ~ It is the wrong approach; it leads to mistakes, confrontation and disaster
The Earl of Erroll: Hansard "The average farmer farms because they hate paperwork. What are we doing now? We are making them farm paperwork. No longer can they use their judgment about anything. Everything is process-driven. It is not a factory out there; you do not know what the weather is going to be like or if the season is going to be early. You know that if you do not cut your hedges for three years, they will get leggy and the English partridge, a biodiversity action species, will be wiped out trying to nest under them. But the environmentalists do not know that, so they want you to grow your hedges tall for some other songbird. It is all balance and judgment, and you must work it out.
You now need quite a seriously high education standard to fill in all these forms. What are we going to do with all the people who live in the country who do not want to be educated to that standard? Presumably they have their 10 per cent adult illiteracy rate like everyone else. How do you deal with deadlines when you are ill? The real problems come with the confrontational approach of the RPA and others. Instead of ringing up and saying that there is a 0.4 discrepancy - to which the response would be, "Oh God. I am sorry, I wrote 0.7 and not 0.3, but the net area is correct" - they say "We are going to fine you if we can under the penalties in section P", when you know that they do not even have the right to do so. It is the wrong approach; it leads to mistakes, confrontation and disaster. ..."
May 15 2007 ~ The RPA needs to pay out about another £280m over the remaining seven weeks to meet its deadline this year
The Farmers Guardian says that this is an average of £40m a week, more than double the payment rate of recent weeks. "Just over 100,000 claimants have now received full or partial payments. Of the 8,500 claimants yet to receive a payment, the majority have claims under 1000 Euro (sic). ...."
See also warmwell RPA pages which catalogue the developing and sorry situation. In March 2006 the Countess of Mar asked " I am deeply dismayed by the complacency displayed by the Minister and his right honourable friend Mrs Beckett ......Why is it that Ministers were so unaware of what was happening? Were they taking the glossy annual reports, with their glowing record of targets achieved, at their face value? Did they ever ask about targets that were not achieved? Why, when all the alarms were sounding from at least November 2005, and probably much earlier, did Ministers not heed them? Could it be that facing the facts became so repugnant that an ostrich-like mentality set in?"
Similarly the Earl of Arran wryly remarked: ".... Perhaps the word "regret" as used by the Minister could be changed to the simple words: "We are very sorry. We got it wrong". However, I suspect that, as happens all too often, the Government could not give a toss for the plight of the rural economy. One day, they will deeply regret that. In the mean time, farmers the length and breadth of the country are furious and fuming. ..."
That was well over a year ago. The Earl of Arran called it "probably the most incompetent piece of government administration ever known in a government department. It certainly rivals that of foot-and-mouth disease. It is utterly deplorable." And on it goes.
April 27 2007~ Single Payment Scheme Lord Rooker unable to answer questions about the level of the EU fine
Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked what discussions had been held with the European Commission "concerning any proposed fine arising from the allegations of mismanagement of the single farm payment scheme; and what is the likely level of any proposed fine. [HL3249]"
Lord Rooker's reply was a model of elegant side-stepping: " The Government are in regular contact with the European Commission regarding the administration of the single payment scheme (SPS). The European Commission's audit of the 2005 SPS in England is on-going and it is too early to draw any firm conclusions. No proposals have been made to date for financial corrections and, should the Commission make any in due course, the Government will continue to defend the UK's interests with the aim of ensuring that any corrections are minimised to the fullest possible degree."
April 27 2007~ Lord Rooker admitted that when David Miliband first came to DEFRA, he thought about bringing in a new payment system
See Farmers Guardian
April 23 2007~ The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett will surely go down as one of the least effective ministers - and that says a lot - to oversee rural affairs.
Dan Bugloss in the Scotsman "... Fortunately, her remit in the Scottish context was relatively minor, but some of her decisions and inactions still have consequences north of the Border. Beckett's handling of the 2003 reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy has proved disastrous for farmers in England. She chose the most complicated system imaginable. Thankfully, Scotland opted for a more pragmatic approach, which is working reasonably well. The Rural Payments Agency was completely out of its depth in assessing the single farm payment due to every farming business in England, resulting in enormous cash flow problems and to many cases of stress, and worse. The business in which my son-in-law is a partner in Essex did not receive its 340,000 final payment for last year until October; it should have been paid in March or April. And he was lucky - some are still awaiting the balance of the 2006 payment. .."
See also "Huge bonuses for civil servants in farm fiasco" in the Telegraph
April 2007~ Some of the Press stories following the findings of the EFRA report, published 29 March
Beckett should be brought to account
ic Wales - Cardiff,UK
Committee chairman Michael Jack MP said only one man - former RPA chief executive Johnston McNeil - had paid for fiasco by losing his job. ...
MPs baying for Beckett's head
Daelnet - Yorkshire Dales,UK
Mrs Beckett said this morning that she had not read the parliamentary report. .DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) should read this report carefully ...
800 face sack in Beckett farm payment fiasco
This is London - London,England,UK
"As a result of difficulties in the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) we have been unable to meet the timetable to deliver our original target to reduce our ...
Report blasts Beckett on farm payments
Norfolk Eastern Daily Press - Norfolk,England,UK
Mrs Beckett, who told the National Farmers' Union conference in February 2006 she was .bloody livid. by the RPA's failures, was succeeded by David Miliband ...
Payments fiasco: 'Beckett should have gone'
Cumberland News - Carlisle,Cumbria,UK
A damning report into the failing of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the implementation of the single payment scheme called for heads to roll at the top ...
UK Lawmakers Attack Beckett for Farm Subsidy Payment Error
Bloomberg - USA
While the EU changed the way these payments were calculated in 2006, problems at the RPA mean the agency probably won't be able to deal with them until 2008 ...
Beckett attacked on farm payments
Guardian Unlimited - UK
... questions why some of those in the Defra and RPA leaderships most closely involved, in particular the former Secretary of State Margaret Beckett, ...
Farming fiasco 'should have cost Beckett's job'
Guardian Unlimited - UK
The RPA had warned the department repeatedly that its payment method was complex and high-risk, but the only person held responsible was Johnston McNeill, ...
Beckett criticised over farm payments
999 Today - UK
"Defra's choice of payment method was complex and very high risk and the RPA had warned Defra repeatedly of the risk involved," the report said. ...
UK MPs call for Beckett's resignation over farm subsidy 'fiasco'
Forbes - NY,USA
Part of its responsibility was to hand out EU subsidies to farmers through the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). However, a change last year in calculations on ...
April 3 2007 ~ Mrs Beckett should have been sacked
"A culture where ministers and senior officials can preside over failure of this magnitude and not be held personally accountable creates a serious risk of further failures in public service delivery," says the report. "Accountability should mean that good results are rewarded but a failure as serious as this of a department to deliver one of its fundamental functions should result in the removal from post of those to whom the faulty policy design and implementation can be attributed." icwales
".....Defra's leadership was at fault for accepting the RPA's statements that the project was "do-able" in the time allowed as an adequate basis on which to pursue such a risky course. The report said Mr McNeill was not personally and solely responsible for the failure to pay farmers. All the crucial decisions were made jointly with Defra. Shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said, "The fact that Margaret Beckett was rewarded for her incompetence by promotion to the Foreign Office says a great deal about the Government's contempt, not only for accountability but for the farming community."...."
April 3 2007 ~ Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron
chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hill Farming, is quoted by the North West Evening Mail He says he is pleased the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs have issued a report criticising former DEFRA Secretary of State Margaret Beckett over the Rural Payments Agency fiasco. Mr Farron says the RPA has been guilty of a catalogue of errors over recent years, leaving thousands of farmers without Single Farm Paymen ts, which could lead to an EU fine of up to £300m.
March 29 2007 ~ "The Committee very much regrets the former Secretary of State's attempts verbally to distance herself from the consequences of policies which she herself must have approved "
The EFRA report on the Rural Payments Agency, published today (pdf) and expressed in the clearest and most unequivocal English, says that Margaret Beckett, Sir Brian Bender and Andy Lebrecht have not been held "personally accountable" for delays. The EFRA chairman, Michael Jack, said: "The reason that we are calling for people to consider their positions is because of Defra's failure to carry out one of its principal core functions. Those involved should examine their consciences about the role they played in this failed venture, which could well cost Defra and farmers up to half a billion pounds." The report calls the handling of the SPS a "catastrophe" and a "serious and embarrassing failure for Defra and the RPA."
It also recommends that the Cabinet secretary reappraises the work of the past and present members of Defra's senior management team to determine whether they should remain in post.
"Decisions should not be made in isolation from practical realities," says the Committee - a sentiment with which long term readers of warmwell will heartily concur..
The overview begins,
"This report is as much about failed policy implementation as it is about a lack of accountability..... In our view it is this failure by Defra to carry out one of its core functions in accordance with its own policies which differentiates this issue from the myriad of botched Government IT projects.....The Government does not seem to be learning the lessons of previous failures. There is a need for greater expertise within Government....The HTML page where individual sections of the report can be read is at www.publications.parliament.uk
accountability for the eventual failure of Defra's ambition has been limited so far to the removal and eventual dismissal of Mr Johnston McNeill, the Chief Executive of the RPA, and one minister accepting some measure of accountability for what occurred following his removal in the reshuffle in May 2006. But responsibility for this failure goes wider than this. It embraces the then ministerial and senior official leadership of Defra and they too should be held accountable.
Some of those in the Defra and RPA leaderships most closely involved, in particular the former Secretary of State Margaret Beckett, the former Permanent Secretary Sir Brian Bender, and the Director General for Sustainable Farming, Food and Fisheries, Andy Lebrecht, have moved on unscathed or stayed in post. A culture where ministers and senior officials can preside over failure of this magnitude and not be held personally accountable creates a serious risk of further failures in public service delivery. "
March 28 2007 ~ The RPA fiasco is likely to cost the country £500 million
"...the cost includes up to£305 million in fines from Europe, £156 million on "fixing" the failures at the Rural Payments Agency and £21 million in interest payments to farmers last year. In a long-awaited report which is expected to be critical of the Government, MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee are expected to determine whether responsibility should rest with a wider range of ministers and officials than who have lost their jobs so far.. The role of Andy Lebrecht, the senior official responsible for the payments policy, who briefed ministers on whether the complicated system chosen to make the payments would work, may be examined......".It is interesting to see this name turning up in the press at last. Taking responsibility for actions should surely be the first principle of a government or government agency - especially one that persists in talking about "customers"- as if those who pay have any real choice.
March 10 2007 ~ Over 3000 people employed by the RPA with a total paybill 2005-2006 of over £85 million. Highest salary £ 205,000.
A Parliamentary Question asked on January 26th....Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many staff are employed in the Rural Payments Agency; what the cost of staff salaries was in 2005-06; and what the (a) highest and (b) lowest salary is for each job. 
Barry Gardiner: The total number of Rural Payment Agency (RPA) employees on the payroll as of31 December 2006 was 3,187 (3,025.26 FTE).
The RPA paybill for the 2005-06 financial year was #85,792,426 and this includes employer national insurance contributions and superannuation.
Salary is determined by grade and the highest and lowest salary in each grade at RPA is:
# Highest Lowest Note: The pay scales above are effective from 1 July 2006.
March 2 2007 ~ Farmers still waiting to receive EU subsidies have been told . "don't call us, we will call you".
Yorkshire Post "The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has asked farmers not to contact them for information about their claims, as the organisation works to complete outstanding subsidy payments. The request in a letter has angered farmers who see it as further evidence of poor management. Some farmers are still waiting for money as part of subsidies for 2005 and, while the Government has begun to make payments for 2006, payouts are still lagging behind Europe........ The Government is now facing EU fines of £300m which will have to be met by the taxpayer. ........"
February 23 2007 ~ Select Committee blames DEFRA financial mismanagement for budget cuts
(EFRA Select Committee) The Committee has today published a Report on Defra's Departmental Report 2006 and Defra's budget. The Committee has blamed financial mismanagement for a £200 million deficit in the annual Defra budget. For further details please see press release dated 23 February 2007
February 23 2007 ~ How Defra hid its bad news
- i.e. of a possible £305 million EU fine ... Western Morning News "Neil Parish MEP, the Conservative agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, claimed the true extent of the likely EU fine had been deliberately revealed on the day of the Prime Minister's announcement on Iraq troop withdrawals. Mr Parish said: "What will annoy farmers most is the cynical way this story was snuck out under the cover of bigger news stories like the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. "It seems yesterday was a good day to bury bad news."......The estimated 8,000 hill farmers in the Westcountry have been particularly badly hit by the fiasco. Tim Farron, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on hill farming, said: "If the Government hadn't shown such incompetent disregard for the countryside, £300m could have been spent on supporting British farming rather than on an avoidable, but deserved, fine. ..."
February 22 2007 ~ "Gordon Brown has bailed out his cabinet colleague David Miliband with more than £300m of taxpayers' money
to pay for the Whitehall computer fiasco last year, which left thousands of farmers without cash subsidies from the European community, it has emerged. The payment was slipped out on Tuesday from the Treasury's contingency fund, which is normally used to cover unforeseen disasters and top up spending on the Iraq war and security. ...
The department confirmed last night that it had been bailed out by the Treasury, but said that the money allocated was an estimate of the cash the ministry might have to pay if it is "fined" by the EU for not making the payments on time.
Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for Norfolk, South, and a member of the Commons public accounts committee, said: "The sheer incompetence and ineptitude of this government in handling [the matter] has now been compounded by them screwing the taxpayer as well." ......" Guardian
( The phrase "Whitehall computer fiasco" des rather suggest that the RPA computer and software was wholly to blame. This page may contradict that assumption.)
January 29 2007 ~ Michael Jack, is now demanding an explanation for the sheer volume of unresolved cases.
Yorkshire Post ".....an outcry in Westminster after official assurances that barely 1,700 farmers out of a total 116,000 needed final top-up payments. Today, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) used its latest progress report to state that it was
"continuing work to review possible errors in some 20,000 entitlements and associated payments."Chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Michael Jack, is now demanding an explanation for the sheer volume of unresolved cases."
January 18 2007 ~"....there was now a need to broaden the question of accountability of Ministers as well as officials.." Michael Jack
Yorkshire Post Civil servant sacked over EU payments fiasco claims Minister was warned of scheme's high risk " ...The blame for the farm payments disaster shifted towards former Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett last night as the civil servant sacked over the furore gave his side of the story. Johnston McNeill, who was dismissed as chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) last March when it became obvious that the Single Payment Scheme was in utter chaos, has until now taken the blame for the fiasco which landed English farmers with a £22m bill in bank charges as well as untold stress. But his long-awaited testimony to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee - given behind closed doors but published last night - has convinced many key MPs that he was framed as a scapegoat for Ministerial failures..The chairman of the committee, senior backbencher Michael Jack, told the Yorkshire Post last night that he believed the recent portrayal of Mr McNeill by the Government had been a "fiction" and there was now a need to broaden the question of accountability of Ministers as well as officials. ."
January 18 2007 ~ RPA ".... this is about accountability. Here we have got mounting complexity and problems.. and yet onward sailed the ship heading towards the iceberg. What I want to know is who was on the bridge?"
The uncorrected oral evidence of Johnston McNeill to the EFRA committee was put up yesterday and makes for interesting reading. The bungle has cost farmers something like £21 million, DEFRA went way over budget and is now cutting back on financing important rural agencies and research (see below.) The process of applying for the Single Farm Payment has been in many cases very stressful indeed and the whole RPA fiasco would be a laughing stock were the consequences not so serious. Mr McNeill has borne the entire burden of responsibility - but it will be remembered that it was Margaret Beckett's decision to introduce a complex hybrid system. Both the WMN and the Liberal Democrats today carry comments that might be thought rather predictable - but the oral evidence does need to be read in full before any fair judgement can be made.
As for the warning that the cuts in research, caused by the RPA overspend, could leave the UK more vulnerable to animal disease, please see the discussion on www.fmd-and-csf-action.org/forums Extract: "We need to start with a clear public statement by the Head of DEFRA on what is needed technically to respond effectively to foreign disease outbreaks in the UK, what technologies are already available in the world today, and what needs to be devised."
January 15 2007 ~ the RPA has admitted that thousands more farmers are waiting to receive the correct money.
WMN "...official figures on the 2005 Single Payment Scheme show that barely 1,700 farmers out of a total of 116,000 are awaiting final payments and that more than 99 per cent of the subsidy fund has been handed out. Now the RPA has admitted that thousands more farmers are waiting to receive the correct money. Last night, Devon farmer Richard Haddock said the latest revelation was evidence that "we are having to squeeze this information out of them instead of Defra being totally straight with us".He added: "Most of us are seriously concerned that these others have not been dealt with. It all adds to the pressure farmers are under."
The powerful select committee inquiry into the debacle of the subsidy system will also press the Government to take action when it publishes its report next month...."
January 4 2007 ~ "Rural England has paid twice for the RPA debacle.."Clive Aslet, writing in the Telegraph Opinion column, pulls no punches on the subject of Margaret Beckett, the RPA and New Labour's attitude to farms and farming.
"The chaos was so great that the EU imposed a £131 million "disallowance" fine on the Government. The Treasury clawed the money back from the offending department.
So the agencies through which Defra delivers its policies have had their budgets slashed. The new countryside agency, Natural England, has been still-born. Kew Gardens, British Waterways (which runs the canals), the Drinking Water Inspectorate - these and other admirable bodies are paying for ministerial incompetence. .....
Abolishing Defra would not be the solution. But farming, as Mr Miliband has found, is a complex subject. It needs a minister from a rural constituency, preferably a rural background, to preside over it.
Trust between Whitehall and the countryside has collapsed. The Tories' first objective should be to rebuild it. In 1997, Jack Cunningham severed the Secretary of State's hotline to rural opinion and knowledge by abolishing the old advisory panels of landowners and farmers. They should be re-established. The disasters of BSE and foot and mouth show that the Whitehall-Knows-Best approach does not work. A supervisory culture is needed: one that sets and monitors farm outcomes, but does not insist on inspecting every step of the way.
Labour likes to see farmers as supplying a beautiful countryside, full of golf courses and bed and breakfast establishments, which the urban majority can enjoy. But the perspective is shifting. Very soon the four fifths of Britain that is still more or less rural will come to be valued in the new context of climate change. ....."
December 9 2006 ~ Johnston McNeill has been sacked nearly nine months after he was suspended on his £114,000 year salary.
Johnston McNeill has been paid £57,000, or six months pay. The Telegraph reports that "Mr McNeill, who with his board is likely to have incurred £131 million in fines from the EU because payments were late, will get a pension of £12,000 a year for life and a payment of £42,000. Michael Jack is reported as saying, "... there is a much greater need for expertise within government."
On Farming today this Week reaction to the news.
December 6 2006 ~ RPA fiasco must not be repeated - says Lib Dem Rural Affairs Spokesman
www.libdems.org.uk "Responding to the announcement that 75% of Welsh farmers have received their RPA funding, Liberal Democrat Rural Affairs Spokesperson, Roger Williams MP has demanded that David Miliband does not allow a repeat of last year's single farm payment fiasco. Mr Williams said: "English farmers will be bitterly disappointed that again their farm payments will lag far behind their neighbours in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland...."
November 28 2006 ~ "It is like mashing your head against a brick wall..."
Farmers' Weekly reported yesterday that
"Scotland and Northern Ireland are about to begin making 2006 single farm payments - a development that will further inflame the situation in England, where £10m of 2005 payments is yet to reach farmers.
In England, complaints against the Rural Payments Agency are growing. FWi has been contacted by producers who say they have reached the end of their tether with the RPA.
Writing on FWi's forums, a farmer calling himself Romper Stomper said: "Apparently, I am a priority claimant - the RPA admitted they made an error in my form in July over the phone. But they will never write a letter or send an email. It is like mashing your head against a brick wall."
Another contributor, called Skint, added: "We have made numerous phone calls to RPA to ask where payment is and no one can give us any info. Surely their computer system can tell us?"...."
November 27 2006 ~ "The government is trying to end the employment of the former head of the troubled Rural Payments Agency
eight months after he was replaced. Johnston McNeill left on paid leave of nearly £114,000 a year, amid complaints that many farmers had not received their 2005 EU subsidies. Since he left in March, he is thought to have cost the taxpayer £71,000. ..
The RPA has yet to make more than 1,700 payments from 2005, of which 41 are claims for more than 1,000 Euros, MPs were told on Monday. The interim chief executive of the RPA, Tony Cooper, told the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee there was also a backlog of 12,000 letters and pieces of correspondence to answer.
But he said the figure was down from 28,000 and there was a "concerted effort" to sift through it all.
Environment Secretary David Miliband has already said that not all farmers will get their 2006 subsidy by the target date of next June. ..." BBC
November 23 2006 ~ RPA staff will be telephoning all those who have yet to be paid in the next two weeks
The Journal "...... the Rural Payments Agency has finally agreed to contact all outstanding claimants for 2005 Single Farm Payment. RPA staff will be telephoning all those who have yet to be paid in the next two weeks, to discuss what is happening with the claim and to hopefully finalise payment....
Richard Brown, of Hexham & Northern Rural, said:
"With a number of farmers still awaiting their 2005 Single Farm Payment (SFP) or Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) only a cautious welcome can be given to the RPA's commitment to pay 96% of valid 2006 claims by June 30, 2007."According to Mr Brown, while farmers can initially expect to receive 2006 Entitlement Statements early in the New Year, due to an inadequate computer system at the RPA, statements will not show any entitlements which may have been transferred in or out since the 2005 allocation."
16 November 2006 ~ "SACKED RPA BOSS 'MAY NEVER FACE INQUIRY' ..." WMN
The Western Morning News reports that eight months after Johnston McNeill was removed as chief executive of the RPA, the EFRA select committee inquiry into the Agency has been told he is not well enough to appear before MPs. He has been on full pay of £114,000 a year since he was removed from his post.
"..... Last night, the chairman of the EFRA committee Michael Jack said he was "immensely disappointed" with Mr McNeill's latest absence which comes only two weeks after the powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told it could not quiz the ousted agency boss. PAC chairman Edward Leigh has previously warned Mr McNeill could be reported to the Commons authorities if he failed to attend the EFRA hearing."
November 14 2006 ~ "Just one-tenth of only one year's money unspent would have covered the £23 million spent by farmers on interest and fees to banks as a result of their late single farm payments."
News that DEFRA repeatedly underspent its budget (£ 750million over five years) has been called "staggering". The Western Morning News reports the story.
In a Parliamentary Question Chris Huhne asked by what (a) percentage and (b) total amount DEFRA required cuts from its executive agencies. Among the cuts to agencies such as the British Waterways, Natural England, Environment Agency, Food From Britain , Marine Fisheries Agency, Meat and Livestock Commission,National Forest Company, Pesticides Safety Directorate, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the State Veterinary Service, Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Veterinary Medicines Directorate - will be noted a £23.0 million (11 per cent.) increase to the Rural Payments Agency.
November 10 2006 ~ Farm subsidy delays could continue into early 2009 because of the total incompetence at the Rural Payments Agency, a leading trade union has warned.
business.edp24.co.uk "Environment Secretary David Miliband has already told MPs that £1.52bn of payments to farmers in England for the current year will not be made until the mid-February at the earliest. Staff who are represented by the Public and Commercial Services Union have been told that the single farm payment systems will not be resolved until 2008. As a result, farmers might not actually get their money until 2009 if the previous payment timetable is followed......
The National Audit Office revealed last month that Defra expects to be fined £131m by the European Commission for misadministration of the SFP scheme. An extra £23m has been allocated to cover spiralling costs, mainly a result of hiring hundreds of staff to deal with massive delays...... .'
November 9 2006 ~ "there's some super people in DEFRA who work extremely hard on our behalf"
Arthur Hill, an arable farmer in Shropshire - still waiting for some of his 2005 payments - explained the Single Payment situation and the cash-flow difficulties faced by farmers to the BBC's PM audience in Wednesday's programme. "This government have so far failed to meet any of their targets" he told PM.
He had praise for DEFRA "The dealings I've had with DEFRA, as opposed to the Rural Payments Agency who make these payments....there's some super people in DEFRA who work extremely hard on our behalf. But in the RPA it's difficult to get..I think it's the management level that is the problem. There are people on the "shop floor" if you like, working extremely hard to get payments out to us and the systems have not been correct and the managers have not reported to government the things that have gone wrong."
November 8 2006 ~ Fiasco to roll on for another year
Telegraph Charles Clover reports: "The fiasco that has surrounded the payment of £1.5 billion worth of annual subsidies to English farmers is to roll on for another year, the Government admitted yesterday. The announcement raises the prospect of further costs for farmers and further substantial cuts in state funding across the rural economy to pay more fines from the European Union. The expected cuts will come on the heels of £200 million in cuts to nature conservation, land drainage and coastal defence this year. ..... A recent National Audit Office (NAO) investigation found that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has made provision to pay fines known as "disallowance" to the EU totalling around £131 million for its failure to pay farmers their subsidies by the legal deadline this year. This figure came on top of the £122 million cost of the single farm payments scheme. NAO investigators blamed Margaret Beckett and Lord Whitty, former Defra ministers, for choosing the most complicated way possible of mapping English farmland and then ignoring a warning that the computerised payments scheme would not work......."
October 26 2006 ~ "The department and the agency knew from the beginning ..."
Phillip Gibby, the director of Defra value for money studies at the NAO
"The department and the agency knew from the beginning this was going to be a very high risk scheme. Also, they have not shared or connected effectively between the different teams."See also NAO report which refers to the stress and frustration among farmers. "The Agency relies on farmers' cooperation to administer the payments scheme effectively. The absence of key information on the progress of each claim hampered the ability of staff in the customer contact centre to resolve farmers' queries." According to the Ipsos Mori poll, when asked
" How well informed, if at all, did the Rural Payments Agency keep you about the progress of your claim?"56% said either Not very well informed (34) or Not informed at all (22). (1000 farmers were interviewed.)
October 24 2006 ~ Lord Rooker: "... the catastrophic lack of trust that we had this year, which would be compounded if there was a problem two years running."
In the Lords debate yesterday, Lord Rooker did his best with a situation inherited and not of his making. The EFRA committee, meanwhile, has been taking evidence from Lord Bach and Lord Whitty, the former Defra Ministers with responsibility for the RPA. Matt Chorley, the London Editor of the WMN reports this at some length.(read Western Morning News in full) The UK Government now faces a fine expected to top £130 million from the European Commission for its handling of the scheme.
October 20 2006 ~ It beggars belief that all those people who make the greatest messes are promoted or given honours, rewarded with bonuses, or kept on full pay.
Email received, Oct 21. Alas, it must remain anonymous:
".....Depressing Farming Today this Week this morning - Rural Payments Agency. It beggars belief that all those people who make the greatest messes are promoted or given honours, rewarded with bonuses, or kept on full pay. On this precept Blair should go straight to heaven to sit to the right or left, or possibly on, the celestial throne, at the end of his disastrous regime.Farming Today This Week Saturday 21st October 2006 BBC website
Thank goodness for animals..."
It seems the chaos at the Rural Payments Agency which farmers have suffered over the last twelve months could very well be repeated. The RPA has told the BBC farmers can expect problems similar to those of the last year when it comes to awarding subsidies. Some in the industry are warning of bankruptcies not only in the farming industry but in the wider rural community. Listen Again to hear more. "
October 20 2006 ~ ".... what sort of Government do we have that keep the then chief executive on full pay six months after he was sacked, and promote the responsible Minister to Foreign Secretary?"
Jim Paice launched a fierce Prime Minister's Question Time attack about the RPA. Prime Ministers Question Time (Wednesday) "Now that the National Audit Office has laid bare the chaos of the Rural Payments Agency, and given the potential fine of £141 million by the European Union because of the inaccuracies, plus the fact that the then Secretary of State was warned in June 2005 that the project was off course and yet did nothing, what sort of Government do we have that keep the then chief executive on full pay six months after he was sacked, and promote the responsible Minister to Foreign Secretary?"
Mr Blair could only reply:
"First, as we have said on many occasions, we are sorry for the delays that there have been. Now, 97 per cent. of farmers have received full or partial payments. The Rural Payments Agency is in contact with the remaining high-value cases, and it is working to pay the remaining claims as soon as possible."Hardly an answer to the questions raised about Mrs Beckett's promotion, the continuing payment of Mr McNeill and the reasons behind both.
October 18 2006 ~ NAO report covered on BBC "auditors found a catalogue of management errors.....Our correspondent added that industry experts say it is inevitable some farmers will go bankrupt as a result. "
BBC "A series of government mistakes while bringing in a system of agricultural payments cost UK farmers up to £22.5m, the National Audit Office says. Its report on the Rural Payments Agency found the costs related to additional interest and arrangement fees on loans. ....
The report points to failings at all levels in appreciating the risks and complexities involved in implementing the scheme. The report's authors say the agency underestimated not only the number of people who would claim under the new system, but also the amount of land they would register.
The computer system that was used was not fully tested, it said.
.... The report's authors say that 5% of the farmers they spoke to were considering leaving farming altogether because of the stress and financial hardship caused by delays in payments. ...... industry experts say it is inevitable some farmers will go bankrupt as a result. "
October 18 2006 ~ RPA's Johnston McNeill is still being paid his £114,000 salary
The NAO report reminds us that Margaret Beckett , ( now, of course, appointed to the most important political job after PM), and Lord Bach were both warned in June 2005 that the scheme would not work - and that was seven months before it was even due to come into action.
They made no contingency plan.
The Telegraph reports:
"...Johnston McNeill, the former chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, is still drawing his £114,000 salary more than six months after he was removed from the post, a report revealed yesterday.
National Audit Office investigators said this was "unsatisfactory" and called on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to "resolve his status" as soon as possible.
It was also revealed that Mr McNeill received a £21,000 bonus last year, a few months before a review found that the complex scheme for paying single farm payments in England over which he presided was unlikely to work. Mr McNeill also received bonuses totalling £40,000 between 2002 and 2004.
October 18 2006 ~ Little prospect of the problems being remedied in time to deal with the 2006 claims
"The Government has plunged thousands of farmers into serious financial uncertainty" said Jim Paice in a news release yesterday. Commenting on the NAO report on the delays in administering the Single Payment Scheme, he said:
'This report is damning confirmation of the Government's disastrous administration of the Single Payment Scheme which has plunged thousands of farmers into serious financial uncertainty..... The report's conclusion that problems with the Single Payment Scheme were not picked up early enough for corrective action to be taken is astonishing considering the repeated warnings given .....'Read in full
Sept 28 2006 ~ Thousands still waiting for money
Farmers Weekly The Rural Payments Agency has confirmed that 99 farmers in England are yet to receive a penny of their single farm payment for 2005 and some 7300 claimants are awaiting their top-up payments ........."
Sept 15 2006 ~ "I feel if we could just sit down together, with all the paperwork, we could solve all this in half an hour."
And on it goes.... The RPA said this week that "just " 134 commercial producers are waiting for 100% of their payment, although another 7954 people are waiting for a top-up payment.
Farmers Weekly quotes Oxfordshire producer Richard Strainge
"....Oxfordshire producer Richard Strainge of Springhill Farm, High Cogges, Witney said he had received a payment on 27 July from an emergency fund. But he said queries about his claim had yet to be resolved and he still does not have an entitlement statement. "The thing that bugs me the most is that I can't do anything to change the situation. They won't let me go to the office and sort it out. But I feel if we could just sit down together, with all the paperwork, we could solve all this in half an hour."
Aug 15 2006 ~ Vital hill farm support still hasn't been received by some farmers in Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire
FarmingUK "The Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) assists farmers in maintaining the unique and beautiful upland countryside. And in many cases it also helps alleviate the hardship that some hill farmers face due to high winter feeding bills.
National uplands spokesman and Keswick farmer Will Cockbain said:
"It is totally unacceptable as we approach the autumn sales period that many farmers are still awaiting HFA payments which were due in the spring. We are being told by the RPA that the bottleneck which has occurred in the last two weeks is now clearing and payments should now speed up. While we have lobbied both Defra and the RPA over the unacceptable delays to this year's payment we are also putting pressure on to ensure the same mistakes are not made next year and the RPA has assured us a system will be in place for next year which will rectify the vast majority of this year's problems. We have also pointed out some payments are wrong and again have been assured checks will be made once all HFAs are completed to pick up on any mistakes. There have been particular problems with some commons but we are now led to believe that the problems that have occurred on these commons have been resolved."
Aug 10 2005 ~ Four 'naked civil servants' fired by RPA
The Register reports: "The inquiry into reports of shenanigans at the Rural Payments Agency has resulted in four staff being booted out of their Newcastle jobs. A further five have received written and verbal warnings. The controversy was sparked by reports of staff vaulting filing cabinets nude, which the investigation said were derived from a prank where staff took photos of each other for a colleague's leaving present. It compared the incident to a "student rag week" gag.....Allegations that staff hid vomit in the office in order to fester was borne out by investigators, with four cups of sick confirmed. The report also reveals: "There have been incidents involving faeces, female sanitary products and mucus deposited." ........ RPA chief executive Tony Cooper said: "Staff at Newcastle and RPA offices across the country are hard-working and dedicated to performing a very important job for the farming industry." ...." More at http://www.rpa.gov.uk/rpa/index.nsf/0/0fe8d6accb5124c9802571c300481548/$FILE/RPA Newcastle inquiry - Executive Summary.pdf
Aug 5 2006 ~Lord Haskins "can't get any sense" out of the RPA
The Yorkshire Post " ... Lord Haskins has received just 35 per cent of the amount due. The former head of Northern Foods said even he "can't get any sense" out of the RPA and branded its behaviour "a disgraceful piece of blundering bureaucracy".
The agency claimed last night that the overpayments were identified during routine checks, although many farmers had also contacted them about the problem. Officials are now left having to correct this latest mistake while trying to resolve outstanding issues.
The RPA's latest figures show 5,895 claimants - including 250 farmers with a claim of more than E1,000 or £682 - are yet to receive any payment whatsoever. Around 13,000 claimants who have received partial payments are still waiting for their top-up cheques. The RPA is also still working to set up an IT system to calculate and pay interest payments for customers who received payments after the June 30 deadline. RPA Interim Chief Executive Tony Cooper promised to urgently tackle the overpayment fiasco. .... But senior countryside figures in Yorkshire were scathing. Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill said:
"Incredibly, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Things were already chaotic - now they're in meltdown."...."
Aug 2 2006 ~ RPA bungle has led to DEFRA Budget needing to be cut by £200 million
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat shadow environment secretary said "This cock-up by Margaret Beckett should be met from the contingency reserve not key budget lines for environmental spending."
The Guardian reports today that DEFRA
"....was in financial crisis last night after being told to cut its budget by nearly £200m over the next six months. The Guardian has learned that the 7% savings are expected to bite deeply into flood defence work, nature conservation and canal repair schemes as well as a host of scientific bodies and research groups..."....
"....The biggest reform of agricultural subsidy in a generation backfired when it led to a 50% increase in the number of claimants to 120,000, and the IT system failed to cope. Hundreds of extra staff had to be hired and administration costs soared. Some payments were made more than seven months late, driving many farmers close to bankruptcy. ...."
July 7 2006 ~ Fresh evidence of Stress caused by delays
Calls to the Farm Crisis Network Hotline in the first five months of 2006 were over 50% higher than in the same period the previous year, an increase driven by anxiety over single farm payments.
Lord Rooker has said that a decision over partial payments will not be made until October.
Mr Paice said:
"The financial uncertainty the farming industry has suffered as a result of delays in single farm payments has clearly had a serious effect on levels of anxiety and stress among farmers. The fact that calls to the Farm Crisis Network's helpline have increased so dramatically underlines the importance of getting this year's payments to farmers as promptly as possible. To achieve this, the Government must make arrangements now for partial payments to be made by December 1st. Farmers cannot afford another year of financial uncertainty, stress and worry."
June 23 2006 ~ 2,300 claimants of more than 1,000 have not been paid, and about 12,000 - it might be 12,200 - claims of less than 1,000 have not been paid.
" I know that this year's problems have caused real distress and I repeat the apology to farmers that I have made before, both in the House and elsewhere..." It is decent of David Miliband to apologise - and one senses that he knows that anything that sets him apart from Margaret Beckett - who didn't do apology - can only be a good move. Andrew Gimson's Telegraph Sketch is also mildy approving: "If the Labour Party is serious about climate change, it might come to see Mr Miliband as a source of renewable energy, and more environmentally friendly than Mr Brown, who finds it so hard to hide his close resemblance to a heavy industry which still runs on coal..."
June 23 2006 ~"I am grateful to the Secretary of State for keeping the House informed of the modest progress that is being made to deal with this problem.
Peter Ainsworth. Hansard " It is unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, that the BBC's "Farming Today" programme probably heard about this statement before you did - but that is life these days, under new Labour. ... Many questions remain to be answered, however. How did the problems arise in the first place? What happens next? The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into what went wrong. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Committee will be given access to all the information that it needs to form a balanced, accurate and comprehensive view of the events that led to the failure to make payments on time? The Committee's inquiry has already produced some interesting evidence, and we look forward to its findings with great interest. Meanwhile, the BBC's "File on 4" programme has disclosed that the Office of Government Commerce gateway review was warning two years ago that there were severe problems with delivering the new system. Why were those warnings ignored?..
I welcome the announcement that the Government will start paying interest on the money that they owe from 1 July. But what about the people who are entitled to payment but have received nothing for the six months before 30 June? Those people have been put at ahuge competitive disadvantage by the Government's incompetence, denial and mismanagement, and have been forced to take out commercial loans. The Secretary of State said that 90 per cent. of the total fund had now been paid, but he did not say - unless I missed something - how many claimants remained unpaid. I would be grateful if he could give us that information. Will he also tell us whether the hill livestock allowance claimants will benefit from the initiative on interest payments that he has announced today?
How many farmers will receive compensation equal to the salary of the sacked chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, who, as I understand it, is still on the payroll but doing nothing? ...... Does the Secretary of State realise that the RPA is still getting its field data wrong and making wildly inaccurate partial payments? ...............Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to comment, however, on press reports about RPA staff who, even as calls to the rural stress network reached record levels, were cavorting naked in the office and hiding cups full of vomit in office cupboards?
We detected a bad smell about the handling of the single farm payment last year, but the Government denied that there was a problem. We called last year for the Government to introduce a partial payment scheme. Their refusal to open up that option at the time cost the farming community millions of pounds. We called on Ministers to return to farmers the interest that they had paid because of the Government's failure, but again the door was closed. It has taken months for them to accept any financial liability at all. Every time we prise open the door on this wretched affair a little further, the smell gets worse. ." Peter Ainsworth. Hansard
June 23 2006 ~ What other budget lines will be cut to defray the extra cost?
Chris Huhne asked "... late payments will have an impact not just on the finances of rural communities, but on Government finances. However, I did not hear him specify a figure that he has told the Treasury to expect for the overrun that will be caused by the fact that the European Union will not meet any payments made by DEFRA after 30 June. What is that figure, and will it be met from the departmental budget? If so, what other budget lines will be cut to defray the extra cost? If not, will the Secretary of State assure us that the amount will be met from the contingency reserve? That would obviously be preferable for all concerned..." Hansard
June 16 2006 ~ Oliver Letwin says that the RPA in "no position" to lecture farmers on small mistakes
See Western Morning News "A Westcountry farming couple have become embroiled in a "bureaucratic nightmare" with the Government's Rural Payments Agency (RPA) after a typing error led to a 16-month inquiry...."
June 15 2006 ~Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many (a) permanent staff and (b) temporary staff
were employed by the Rural Payments Agency in each month since October 2001 expressed in terms of (i) actual staff numbers and (ii) full-time equivalent staff; and if he will make a statement.
Hansard has the answer...and it may cause steam to rise even higher....
June 13 2006 ~Complaints of scandalous and time-wasting behaviour by staff at RPA
The Western Morning News reports
".... Several staff at the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) head office in Newcastle are facing disciplinary procedures over claims that they leapt naked from filing cabinets, held break-dancing competitions during work hours and vomited into cups during workplace pranks...... Their behaviour was revealed to a local newspaper in Newcastle by a whistleblower sick of their outrageous antics. ... In a letter to the newspaper, the whistleblower wrote:
"I am appalled at the level of depravity that is being tolerated at my workplace. Activities have been caught on official cameras. There is a list of shocking and awful acts in work time, including sex in the toilets. Drug taking and swearing is rife."Many farmers in the Westcountry have been financially crippled by delays, of up to five months or more in some cases, in receiving the Single Farm Payment. .............
The chairman of the Regional Dairy Board for Devon, John Daw, a farmer who is still waiting for up to £15,000 in farm payments from the RPA, said he was not surprised by the mischief. "With such a high turnover of staff they are bound to get the people nobody else wants and we farmers suffer as a result," he said. ..." WMN story
30 May 2006 ~ Ian Johnson : "This whole scheme has been nothing but a fiasco.
When you consider that hundreds of years ago they managed to create a similar log in the Domesday Book, it is amazing that with all the technology they now have they cannot get it right. It strikes me that to make a payment of 1p is going to cost the RPA even more in processing it. The whole thing is ridiculous."...." Western Morning News has the latest report.
19 May 2006 ~ "... if we are going to protect British agriculture, then let us at least do it efficiently.
I have no doubt that, during this debate, other noble Lords will draw attention to the scandalous inefficiency of Defra, which has got itself a hopeless muddle, largely because the present system is complex to administer and calls for excessive bureaucracy. Farmers have had to find millions of pounds to pay interest on loans they have taken out to cover shortfalls caused by the failure of subsidies to arrive. No other government in Europe bungled it. The failure is unique to Britain and Margaret Beckett, who had been head of Defra since 2001, was responsible for this fiasco. The new Minister will need a big broom to clean the Augean stables. ..."
The Lords debate on agriculture on Thursday (Hansard) was, as usual, informed and readable. Lord Vinson began the debate with a laudably clear explanation of both the current difficulties and the extreme importance of British Agriculture. He said
".... it used to take 200 sheep to buy a tractor but now it takes 400 sheep, and milk is sold in supermarkets for half the price of bottled water. When it comes to regulation, a farmer said to me the other day, "I spend most of my time filling forms. We shouldn't now be called "farmers"; we should be called "formers". But the present wasteful and inappropriate EU subsidy shambles does not weaken the case for agricultural support. It is difficult to see what our membership of the EU does for Great Britain, and farming and fishing in particular. We are currently supporting our farming industry with money recycled back from part of our contribution to the EU, and it would be sensible seriously to consider repatriating the right to run our own agriculture with our own money in our own way..." (Read debate)
12 May 2006 ~" Tony Blair's decision to allow John Prescott to keep his pay and perks has left him unable to appoint a full-time minister
to sort out the chaos at the Government's Rural Payments Agency, it was claimed last night.Mr Prescott was stripped of all his departmental responsibilities last week after humiliating revelations about his affair with his diary secretary. But fearful of sparking a full leadership contest, Mr Blair allowed the Deputy Prime Minister to retain his status as a Cabinet Minister along with his 3134,000 salary.Last night, rural campaigners claimed the decision had forced Mr Blair to make the crucial post of Farming Minister part-time...." WMN
12 May 2006 ~ RPA cost us £634 million between 2002 and 2005
Other questions and answers from Hansard
On the question of gobbledegook, we particularly liked:
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the 2006 single farm payment application form was passed to the Plain English Campaign for editing before its despatch to farmers. Read in full
Barry Gardiner: The 2006 version of the single payment scheme handbook and (guidance for England was not submitted to the Plain English Campaign for editing; however it was edited by the Central Office of Information. The application form was not.
12 May 2006 ~ Bishop Michael Langrish questioned whether ministers had fully understood the impact of the chaos at the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) on the wider rural economy.
He said a medium-sized livestock farm typically provided employment and income for around 60 rural businesses, and a typical dairy farm relied upon 27 suppliers.
"To what extent do the Government recognise that those firms are also incurring debt and facing the prospect of losing their livelihood? What plans do they have to address the latest distress in the rural economy?"Bishop Michael's comments came as new figures from the Bank of England underlined the depth of the financial crisis sparked by the problems with the Government's new farm payments system. The figures showed that farmers' debts rose by £862 million last year ..." WMN
10 May 2006 ~ Baroness Ashton of Upholland turns down poisoned chalice
We understand from the Western Morning News today that, as they put it,
"the chaos surrounding the Government's new farm payments system descended into farce last night as the minister appointed by Tony Blair to sort out the crisis quit after just four days. In a desperate face-saving exercise the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the veteran minister Lord Rooker would now take up the post, although he will also retain responsibilities at the Northern Ireland office, where he is already a minister..."Baroness Ashton was to have replaced Lord Bach - but also expected to retain her responsibilities at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, where she has been a minister since 2004. The Rural Payments Agency is to get its third interim chief executive in seven weeks. Shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has said:
"This shambles just demonstrates the contempt with which the Government treats farmers and rural communities. At a time when the industry is already in desperate straits as a result of Government incompetence they give us part-time ministers and civil servants. It is absolutely dreadful and will surely do nothing to speed up the processing of desperately needed payments."Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Responsibility for food and farming is not a part-time job. Five years ago there was a Minister for Agriculture in the cabinet, now it seems farming is only worth half a junior minister......"
The WMN comments further: "The botched reshuffle last night threatened to overshadow a rare sliver of good news emerging from the RPA. New Rural Affairs Secretary David Miliband yesterday announced that partial payments would begin going out this week to the tens of thousands of farmers still not paid money owed since December."
9 May 2006 ~ "grief, stress and financial burden"
Stackyard " The Tenant Farmers Association's National Chairman Reg Haydon has written to new DEFRA Secretary of State David Miliband to welcome him to his new post....... "The grief, stress and financial burden being suffered by these farmers is devastating. I have asked Mr Miliband to press ahead with interim payments to ensure that they are out within the next two weeks. Farmers should not be left beyond the end of this month without receiving a payment", said Mr Haydon.
8 May 2006 ~ "How can you expect us to ever believe you again?
Extract from the letter to Mrs Beckett from Peter Clarke, the chairman of the Cornwall branch of the National Farmers' Union two days before her promotion to Foreign Secretary. He warned her that if the SFP is not completed before October 15, there could be an "implosion in the rural economy". .... Western Morning News One significant passage:
".... would not be in the current situation if you had taken advice from outside of your departments, and not gone bullheaded down a route that most realised was impassable."
8 May 2006 ~ .Margaret Beckett gave out £100,000 to rural-support organisations offering counselling before she was reshuffled. Yes, counselling.
Madeleine Bunting in today's Guardian
".....To add to the chagrin of English farmers, their neighbours north of the border in Scotland or those in Wales received their payments without a hitch months ago. The system agreed in 2003 has gone smoothly across Europe; even Poland has paid its 1.5 million farmers on time. But not England.
Beckett's reputation has miraculously escaped the battering inflicted on that of her former cabinet colleague Charles Clarke, but the grisly displays of incompetence at her erstwhile brief, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), more than match those at the Home Office. David Miliband will have a huge task in his new job at Defra to unravel a monumental mess that bears all the hallmarks of New Labour's style of government: over-centralisation, inflated expectations of IT, ruthless job cuts, overpaid senior executives and ballooning numbers of temporary staff.
The litany of mistakes beggars belief, and one thing underlies them all - hubris. An impatient ambition and a refusal to listen to anything they didn't want to hear is what led the politicians to insist that the benighted civil servants of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) simultaneously implement three huge projects involving the distribution of £1.5bn of public money....." See Guardian for Full article
7 May 2006 ~ Bitter harvest (Telegraph Opinion)
Sunday Telegraph Many rural communities in Britain are on the edge of financial collapse, with farmers owed £1.6 billion in EU subsidies. The unpaid farmers have already had to find £8 million to pay the interest on loans they have taken out to cover the short-falls caused by the failure of the subsidies to arrive. And it is not only the farmers who face ruin: the companies who supply them also feel the squeeze when their bills cannot be paid.
.......... it is the Government's maladministration that is wholly responsible for the failure of the money to reach the people to whom it is owed.....The Government has demonstrated, yet again, that it does not care about the fate of rural communities: it should have been within the capacity of even this Labour administration to make the payments promptly. It is not a difficult task. No other government in Europe has bungled it........ Labour, which constantly boasts of its technical competence and capacity to "modernise" institutions and procedures effectively. ...Margaret Beckett, who, as head of Defra since 2001, is responsible for this fiasco, has just been promoted to Foreign Secretary. We shudder to think what will happen ..."
6 May 2006 ~ Farewell to the can carriers
The Telegraph says:
"....Lord Bach, the agriculture minister in charge of the bungled farm payments scheme, was among six ministers outside the Cabinet who lost their jobs yesterday..... Elliot Morley, the long-serving environment minister, was also axed from the department, because he was seen as failing to rise to the green challenge presented by David Cameron, the Conservative leader.It adds,
Alun Michael, the industry minister, who has had an up and down career in government, returned to the back benches. ..."
"....Margaret Beckett, the Cabinet minister in charge of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, acknowledged a "human crisis" caused by the delays. But her junior minister carried the can and she escaped unscathed, promoted to be Foreign Secretary."
06 May 2006 ~ Beckett leaves farm aid mess for Miliband
Yorkshire Post "Margaret Beckett, who admitted failing farmers over rural payments, has been rewarded with the post of Foreign Secretary. The mess she and now dismissed Farming Minister Lord Bach presided over will be swept up by high flier David Miliband, 40, who succeeds her .......... Despite Ministers' promises of all payments being made by the end of March only £362m had been allocated with more than 70,000 farmers still waiting for cheques, leaving many facing hardship. One of Mr Miliband's first jobs will be to ensure the remaining £1bn of grants are delivered as soon as possible. ........... Last night Countryside Alliance chairman Kate Hoey, a Labour MP, welcomed his appointment, saying: "David is a very brilliant politician. The rural community is feeling fed up over all sorts of issues, the most pressing being the catastrophic failure of the Rural Payments Agency. He will be a breath of fresh air at Defra and has a real opportunity to reconnect with rural people and their concerns." But Scarborough and Whitby Tory MP Robert Goodwill said: "Lord Bach deserved to get the boot... But I am incandescent that Margaret Beckett has been rewarded for the outrageous hardships she has caused thousands of farmers across Yorkshire. It says it all about the way Labour views Britain's farmers."
May 2 2006 ~ Letters in the Guardian - Human cost of farm payment delays
Peter Griffith, the Director of Farming Online writes in the Guardian -
"You were right to question why the bill from Accenture doubled without query from either Defra or the Regional Payment Agency (Leaders, April 28). The National Audit Office will investigate what went wrong with the Rural Payments Agency and the single payment scheme in England: why the agency experienced difficulties in making payments, the impact on the farming sector, and what has been done to remedy matters.Another letter from the Rev Elizabeth Clark:
But in part the fault lies with Defra for failing to realise the new system would introduce a raft of new claims: 120,000 claims for the single farm payment have been made, yet there are only 68,000 farm holdings over 20 hectares within England. This is the recognised minimum hectarage to sustain some form of farm income. There are probably only 45,000 farmers in England who rely on farming as their main source of income. These are the people who have not been paid and are now suffering. There is now the highest ever on-farm debt - exceeding £10bn - which is affecting all sectors of the agricultural and rural sector.
These are not farm subsidies, these are payments to maintain farmland in good agricultural and environmental condition, and thereby preserve the inherent characteristic of the English countryside. These are down-payments for the maintenance of the health of our regional environment. To date the RPA has been paying the wrong people; 40% of the claimants paid with 30% of the total subsidy shows these are not the main players. A survey of farmers, carried out by Farming Online, shows that to date only 17% have received this payment. England is the only country within the EU that has failed to pay its primary food producers to protect the environment. This is causing unnecessary hardship throughout the rural economy.
"As a rural minister, I and my colleagues see the results of the situation you refer to. Farmers and their families are facing rising levels of financial hardship and stress. This is possibly the biggest reorganisation in agriculture since the second world war and the way it has been introduced is shambolic. The silence on this matter in most of the media only increases the sense of isolation and frustration felt by farmers. There seems to be a feeling about that it doesn't matter where food comes from, as long as it's cheap; this ignores concerns about both animal welfare and environmental impact."
April 30 2006 ~ Beckett's farm payments chaos
" DEFRA'S shambolic handling of single farm payments in England has caused many farmers to suffer economic hardship.The Polish government has managed to pay out to around 1.5m Polish farmers, yet our government will have passed the deadline for receiving claims for 2006 (May 15) before it has even met its commitments for 2005.
..... The European commission asked Defra to stick with the historic system that served Scottish and Welsh farmers adequately, but Margaret Beckett decided to opt for the bureaucracy that has caused this debacle. ..... many English farmers will not receive their entitlement from January 1, 2005 until nearly the end of 2006 - a delay of almost two years. The situation would be laughable if it were not so serious for so many hard-working farmers.
Timothy Kirkhope MEP Leader of Conservative MEPs
April 28 2006 ~ Double Whammy for English Farmers (26 April)
" It emerged last night that the British Government wrote to Agriculture Commissioner Fischer Boel on 12 April to ask for an extension until mid-October to the deadline for the Single Farm Payment to be paid to English farmers. The Commissioner told Members of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee that her services were "examining this request", which involves making outstanding 2005 payments by 15 October in addition to some payments for 2006. Under the current rules, the UK Government would be fined by Brussels if it fails to make all 2005 payments by 30 June this year.
The Commissioner made the revelation in answering questions from Neil Parish MEP, Conservative Agriculture Spokesman in Europe. Mr Parish said:<
>"The payments were first promised in January, then in February, then in the middle of March and then in June. Now for the first time we hear that Margaret Beckett is manoeuvring behind our backs to secure an extension until the autumn for the Single Farm Payment to actually be paid to English farmers. She made no mention of this in her Ministerial Statement of 19 April. Moreover, in the debate that followed in the House on 20 April, she said: 'I do not tell the European Commission anything different from the House. The Commission is familiar with events and has been kept informed about the steps that are being taken. Like the House, it has been told that we anticipate making the payments in June.'"From the Conservative Party website
When will our farmers be paid? How on earth can our farmers be expected to remain economically viable if they are not paid until October? How can farmers be expected to fill in their claims next month without even knowing if their 2005 claims have been accepted? Margaret Beckett needs to find answers to these questions fast."
April 22 2006 ~Oral Answers to Questions - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Single Payments Scheme (20 Apr 2006)
Peter Ainsworth: The Secretary of State's approach to this whole fiasco smacks of complacency. Her own figures show that in the first four weeks the RPA paid 23 per cent. of the claims. In the last three weeks it has paid a further 16 per cent. How can she possibly claim that there is a significant improvement when the rate has slowed? Hansard
April 19 2006 ~ Single Farm Payments announcement adds insult to injury
Margaret Beckett has made a statement to admit that the Rural Payments Agency does not expect to complete single farm payments before the EU deadline.
A press release from Jim Paice
"It is not just farmers who will end up footing the bill for the Government's mismanagement and incompetence, but taxpayers too.The UK is the only country in the EU where a majority of farmers are still waiting for payments.
The belated decision to make interim payments is welcome but there are many questions left to be answered. How much will the Government's failure to make payments before the EU deadline end up costing British taxpayers in penalties? When will partial payments actually be made and will they be made to the large number of farmers who have received entitlement statements that aren't validated?
With less than four weeks before this year's claims have to be submitted how can farmers with unvalidated statements make a correct claim? Mrs Beckett must delay the deadline and seek the necessary derogation from the EU. "
April 13 2006 ~ FARMERS 'SUFFERING' FROM LATE PAYMENTS
WMN A Westcountry MP last night called for an inquiry into the "chaos" at the Government's Rural Payments Agency - as it emerged that money owed to thousands of farmers may not be paid until the autumn.
Angela Browning, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, and a former Tory agriculture minister, said there was now a clear case for an inquiry by the independent National Audit Office into the problems at the agency, which have left thousands of Westcountry farmers facing serious cash flow problems.
Mrs Browning, a member of the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee, said she was "very concerned" by the inability of the agency to offer any new timetable for making the vital payments, which are already months overdue.
She said it was even possible that the agency could miss the legal deadline for making payments by the end of June - a failure that could lead to the UK being fined tens of millions of pounds by the European Commission. "It is really very worrying that the agency cannot give any prediction about when these payments will be made," she said.
"Farmers are suffering now and there is a real danger that taxpayers will suffer too. It is an ideal subject for the National Audit Office to investigate and I think the Public Accounts Committee may well also want to look at it.
"Some of the case work I am dealing with on this issue beggars belief. The impact it is having is severe and getting worse."
A spokesman for the National Audit Office, which acts as Parliament's financial watchdog, last night said it was aware of the problems at the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and was "monitoring" the situation.
Mrs Browning's comments came as it emerged that vital payments owed to farmers could be delayed until the autumn. The payments, which replaced traditional farm subsidies last year, were originally due to be made at the end of last year. That deadline later slipped to the end of March. The RPA's chief executive Johnston McNeill was removed last month when it emerged that the target would be missed, although he is still on the payroll and claiming his £150,000-a-year salary. Research conducted by the National Farmers' Union suggests that the process of validating claims for last year will not be completed until November, with some payments not following until the end of the year. So far less than a quarter of the £1.4 billion owed to farmers in England has been paid.
South Devon beef farmer Richard Haddock, chairman of the South West NFU, described the situation as "desperate". Mr Haddock said he had "no confidence" that the RPA would hit the legal deadline at the end of June. And he called for the resignation of Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett.
Mr Haddock said: "At the rate they are going they will not finish validation until November. I have not got a validated statement for my claim and I have just received the tenth version of maps for my farm, which were wrong again. It is hopeless.
"I have not seen such desperation in the industry since the height of the BSE crisis. Tenant farmers can't pay their rent; people can't settle their fertiliser bills. The whole rural economy is running into trouble."
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said changes put in place by the RPA's acting chief executive Mark Addison were still "bedding down". He said it was not yet possible to set out a new timetable for making payments."
April 11 2006 ~Weston MP John Penrose is backing Mr Bateman's campaign.
Weston Mercury Mr Penrose said: "This is a real David and Goliath story. If the Government was a company it would have been in court and declared bankrupt long ago. I will be raising this in the House of Commons with the minister as soon as possible..."
April 11 2006 ~ Members of the NFU's ruling council have said that they will want DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett's resignation
if the process of making single farm payments to all farmers in England is not completed by the EU deadline of 30 June. NFU council voted in favour of the demand following an impassioned debate on Tuesday morning (11 April)...They also made it clear they want to see a full independent inquiry into the SFP debacle.
Several council members offered accounts of the anxiety and hardship being caused by the chaos and confusion into which the process of making the payments has descended.
The meeting was told of overdrafts having to be extended, bills unpaid, of a cash-flow crisis, and of rural helplines such as the Farm Crisis Network being overwhelmed by calls from increasingly desperate farmers. ." FWi
April 7 2006 ~ Single Farm payment FAQ - in Farmers Weekly
"......NFU president Peter Kendall went on a fact-finding mission to the RPA this week and said the system did seem to be working. But he added that he was yet to be reassured that the changes introduced were helping to make a difference to the headline payment figures. " FWi
April 6 2006 ~ "stakeholders" have received this letter from Defra. How much public money did it cost to send?
It is written in execrable English:
"Due to be very high print runs, farming link is produced and printed a number of weeks before it is distributed to you. This quarters edition (March 2006) was sent out from 13th of March. Unfortunately this means that it can't tend in formation of the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) that has since been superseded." (sic)It is not dated. The link to the DEFRA website is wrongly spelt.
One wonders just how much public money was spent, first in the "very high print runs" of March 13th and then in telling the same number of frustrated farmers what they - and everyone else with ears - has known since last year. One wonders too which bright spark thought it appropriate to reassure stakeholders that
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural affairs said: "Central to the success of these steps is the team at the RPA. I am confident that with Mark Addison at the helm, we have in place the right people for the job in this next stage. Their work and commitment remains key to delivery."According to the letter, Margaret Beckett appears to have discovered "officially" that the RPA was in tatters only one day after the original "Farming Link" letter, sent out on the 13th March 2006, claimed that "most of the £1.6 billion of subsidies for farmers would be paid by the end of March"
("out of their depth" is a phrase we hear more and more in emails - and for a government in charge of so many vital aspects of British life, this is deeply disturbing. The one thing everyone agrees the government does superbly well is covering their own backs, never saying sorry and managing to cling on to power with what seems the most egregious cynicism.)
April 6 2006 ~ Cash delays are pushing farmers to the brink
"Farmers can't pay their bills and the stress factor of it is worse because it is right on lambing and spring calving time. "People are concerned about the money but what worries us is that it is going to end up with a fatality - people could kill themselves over it." Northumberland Today quoting Stoker Frater, council delegate for Northumberland National Farmers Union. Read in full
April 4 2006 ~ "...All he has received is a letter informing him of the amount he is still owed.... in Euros".
Weston-super - Mare MP John Penrose is backing a local farmer's court action against Margaret Beckett for non-payment of the Single Farm Payment (SFP) to his North Somerset farm.
Local farmer Paul Bateman issued the claim against the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after he failed to receive payment by the due date on October 31st 2005 and the subsequent deadline Feb 28th 2006. All he has received is a letter informing him of the amount he is still owed, in Euros. Mr Penrose said:
"This is a real David and Goliath story. If the Government was a company, they would have been in court and declared bankrupt long ago. I will be raising this in the House with the Minister as soon as possible in Parliament. Many farmers are in the same position as Mr Bateman. But as far as we know, Paul is the first farmer to take a Cabinet Minister to court.( Information from press release received at warmwell on 4 April)
The Head of the Regional Payment Agency was sacked (16th March 2006) but our local farmers are no further forward. It's vital that farmers get the money they're already owed. If payments are going to be further delayed, the Government must consider either making interim payments or paying interest on the money."
April 2 -9 2006 ~ "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."
James Paice has written to Mrs Beckett today. Extract:"... 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..... the question of interest.... 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?...." Read in full
April 2 -9 2006 ~ "...situation is nothing short of scandalous. The worst of it is that it was entirely predictable."
Lords Hansard for March 30th. The Lords spoke out with courtesy - but with devastating reproach. Lord Bach, however, remained unmoved. Extract:
"The Earl of Arran: ......the sad fact is that, until the supermarkets are prepared to pay a fair price for beef, lamb and milk, the single payment will make the difference between profit and loss, and survival and extinction, and it will be what keeps the rural world going round. The disgraceful fiasco over the single payment is not only putting farmers' businesses at risk; in the north of Devon alone, it is also damaging hundreds of other small businesses that supply feed, fertiliser, machinery and 101 other goods or services to the farming community. They have not been paid because, without the single payment, farmers do not have the means to pay them.Read in full
That situation is nothing short of scandalous. The worst of it is that it was entirely predictable. The Government chose the most complicated model of single payments that it was possible to devise. They then asked the staff of the Rural Payments Agency to implement it at the same time as threatening large numbers of them with redundancy. Finally, they relied on assurances from people at the top of the RPA, whose record has been shown to be rather less successful at delivering projects on time than the constructors of the Wembley Stadium and rather less forthcoming in their communications than the old Soviet politburo. This is probably the most incompetent piece of government administration ever known in a government department. It certainly rivals that of foot-and-mouth disease. It is utterly deplorable.
Humility still counts for an awful lot. Perhaps the word "regret" as used by the Minister could be changed to the simple words: "We are very sorry. We got it wrong". However, I suspect that, as happens all too often, the Government could not give a toss for the plight of the rural economy. One day, they will deeply regret that. In the mean time, farmers the length and breadth of the country are furious and fuming. ..."
April 2 - 9 2006 ~ " Margaret Beckett declared: "I take full responsibility." She meant she had just sacked one of her officials..."
Sir Simon Jenkins on the RPA fiasco
"....Only 20% of cheques have been signed, partly because a £37m government computer has declared more than 95% of claims "unvalidated". As a result some £3 billion cannot be released from the exchequer. Ministry phones go unanswered, forms are lost, banks are preparing to foreclose on overdrafts. The BBC's Farming Today programme is like a daily dispatch from a banana republic.An email from one of the farmers affected ...
...Two weeks ago Margaret Beckett, the relevant minister, declared: "I take full responsibility." She meant she had just sacked one of her officials, Johnston McNeill, so as to save the skin of her farm minister, an obscure Tony crony called Lord Bach. The latter had spent six months deriding critics of his scheme as "shoddy" and creating "unfounded alarm and uncertainty". The shambles at Defra, the rural affairs department, might win more publicity were a similar litany of woe not rising from every corner of Whitehall. ..." Read in full
April 2 2006 ~ RPA " Northallerton office has had to recruit dozens of sixth-formers from the local comprehensive to come in, between six and nine each evening, to help sort out the mess.
Today's Sunday Telegraph ".....thanks to the unique complexities of the system devised for England by Margaret Beckett, and the collapse of the computer system devised by Accenture (the same company that is responsible for the chaos engulfing a £6 billion computer system for the NHS), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has sitting on the money for months. Meanwhile farmers have been paying an additional £13 million a month in interest on what they borrow to make up the shortfall...." Booker's Notebook
See also an email from one of the farmers affected
March 31 2006 ~ the latest RPA processing error "Not for the fainthearted"
The latest RPA processing error is that there is an 'issue' with entitlement identifier numbers.
It seems that the "unique" identifier number shown for blocks of entitlements is not at all unique. Far from being a unique number there are, in fact, two; one with 7 digits and one with 8 digits. Confusion and chaos. The NFU Statement Single Payment - Frustration Mounts is a model of restraint, but nevertheless uses the phrase, "simply bad government".
March 25 2006 ~ "....completely blind to the economic and human' consequences of the RPA's failure"
Muckspreader 21 March 2006 - Private Eye
"... McNeill.... the second massive career failure in a row. He had previously......played a key part in the drama whereby, wholly unnecessarily, Britain lost three quarters of its abattoirs, leaving vast tracts of the country without a slaughterhouse....
... McNeill's departure has done nothing to improve matters. Almost immediately the agency's IT system crashed yet again, losing quantities of data. The word from inside the RPA was that many farmers could not hope to be paid until midsummer at the earliest.
..... Peter Clarke, chairman of the Cornish NFU ....was not slow to identify where the real blame lay: "Mrs Beckett must have had knowledge of how shambolic this agency was'.... has allowed him to remain on the payroll, still drawing his £160,000 a year. " Read in full
March 17 2006 ~ RPA head sacked
It would seem that the whole computer system has "collapsed" with the loss of a substantial amount of data. WMN merely reports:"The head of the Government's "shambolic" Rural Payments Agency was sacked yesterday - as it emerged vital payments owed to thousands of Westcountry farmers will be delayed beyond the end of the financial year..."
( It will be remembered that Lord Bach was convinced that there was nothing preventing the payments being made on time .." The EFRA Committee's interim report, published on 24th January this year, showed that the Committee were "dismayed at the complacency of the Minister" See below) Jim Paice said the Government was right to sack Mr McNeill but that ministers had to carry the can for the failures.
"Farmers all over England are increasingly desperate for money; sympathy won't pay their bills or their workforce. The fault for this lies at the heart of Government and they should carry the can."Johnston McNeill's previous job was Chief executive of the Meat Hygiene Service, which he left after the Maclean Inquiry into inspection charges for small abattoirs. His career there was not exactly glorious.
The CLA Press Release on the matter: "... 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 ...". See also Hansard
January 25th 2006 ~MPs on the Committee were staggered that the Minister could still not give a definitive statement
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is "deeply unimpressed by the failure of Defra and the RPA to plan properly for the process of administering payments to farmers under the new Single Payment Scheme " and is scathing about the complacency of Lord Bach. He has refused to admit that any mistakes have been made or that anything could have been done differently. "MPs on the Committee were staggered that the Minister could still not give a definitive statement about when full payments would be made, or whether farmers would instead initially receive partial payments. It would be unacceptable if farms were put out of business due to delays by the RPA in making payments, and the Government should make clear what steps it intends to take to ensure that this does not happen."Comment:
The MPs spoke too of DEFRA's insufficient consideration, lack of foresight and failure to anticipate the complexity of the scheme. It was particularly concerned that little notice had been taken of its previous warnings MPs were alarmed to learn about the scale of the cost and that there has been no apparent remedial action by top management or by Ministers. . (Extracts)
The story is taken up by the Telegraph Lord Bach's failure to accept responsibility is evident from the way he blames the Labour majority on the Committee for being "unduly influenced by the Conservative chairman"......
"... Tim Bennett, the president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The agency's bungling has placed a massive financial burden on farmers and some are in grave danger of sinking as a result."(See a farmer reader's utter (but witty) frustration and also warmwell comment below.)
The IT expert at the RPA is paid in excess of £225,000 a year (see Charles Clover in Saturday Telegraph) and the sacked CE (Johnston McNeill) is still on full pay (see Hansard) The reality of the situation is bleak. In Cumbria tenant farmers have eaten deep into their savings and cannot afford to buy the usual feed and fertiliser needed at this time of year, with obvious knock on effects, rents are due in a few days time. Suicides were mentioned in the debate , but Lord Bach did not register any emotion when this point was made.
The government's cost sharing scheme with farmers for animal diseases assumes - most unfairly and unreasonably - a responsibility for animal disease incursion falling almost wholly on the shoulders of farmers.Dr Roger Breeze's suggestion here, with its emphasis on a genuine partnership and sharing and "Government Benchmarks" as a check, is so much more likely to result in fairness and trust .
"Cost sharing offers industry a chance to sit at the table as a partner to make sure that when it pays what is asked, it gets what is promised. In this context, I use 'industry' to mean those concerned with the raising, processing and sale of livestock and poultry from farm to fork in the UK, including all zoo and commercial animals and birds (from which commerce or profit is derived) regardless of species. ." Read in full