English farmers are being treated as “second class citizens”, according to Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman Roger Williams, given that they still have to wait far longer than anyone else in the UK for their single farm payments.

Mr Williams’ comments followed publication of a written ministerial statement by junior DEFRA minister Jonathan Shaw in which he sets out the latest performance targets for the Rural Payments Agency for this year’s SFPs.

In particular, he specifies that the RPA should have paid 80% of valid claims by value by 31 January 2009 and 90% by value by 31 March 2009. This compares with last year’s targets to achieve 90% of payments by the end of May.

But Mr Williams criticised the government for not going far enough. “This target is not high enough and many farmers will be left waiting far longer than they should to receive vital payments.

“In Wales 75% of farmers were paid on the first days of December, so the target of 80% by the end of January for English farmers puts them at a real disadvantage when they try to compete in the market.

“The EU requires 96% of the fund to be spent by June and it is quite possible that the government won’t meet this target,” he added.

“English farmers are being treated as second class citizens and the government must act to ensure a level playing field in the agriculture industry across the UK.”

DEFRA’s targets also call for a 10% reduction in the cost of administering the RPA “without compromising service delivery”, and for payments to be accurate “to within 2% materiality for all subsidy schemes under RPA’s direct management”.