Farm leaders are hoping that the “removal” of Johnston McNeill as chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency is a first step towards getting the single farm payment fiasco sorted.
David Fursdon, president of the Country Land & Business Association, said: “Mr McNeill’s going is a step in the right direction but the CLA will not rest until its members have the payments to which they are entitled.
“At the end of the day, we have to remember the farmers who are being affected by this fiasco.
“Many have been waiting for payments for months and will now have to renegotiate facilities with banks and rearrange plans to transfer entitlements. Others will have to put plans to develop their business on hold.”
The NFU said it was utterly dismayed at the continued incompetence of the RPA, so was not surprised by DEFRA’s announcement that the agency will fail to pay the bulk of support payments to farmers by the end of March.
Union president Peter Kendall said: “The admission that targets will not be met confirms the state of disarray at the RPA.
“It seems the agency has continued to fail farmers and growers despite a number of repeated warnings from industry. This mess will leave many farmers facing serious hardship.
“I, and the president of the CLA, will be meeting Lord Bach early next week where we will insist on emergency action to get as many farmers paid as soon as possible. That is our absolute priority.
“These payments are part of farming throughout Europe and farmers need them to control cash flow. You cannot run a business on a promise. This mess must end here.”
The RPA this week revealed that fully validated Single Payment Scheme claims total 58% (or approximately 69,000) of claims, but as of 14 March only 7,539 claims (or 6.2% of the 120,367 applications received) had been paid out.
Mr Johnston has been replaced by Mark Addison who is a former DEFRA acting permanent secretary and has also worked in Downing Street.