The Tenant Farmers Association has said that DEFRA must share responsibility with the Rural Payments Agency for the mess single farm payments are in.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett announced on Thursday (16 March) that she had decided to remove RPA chief executive Johnston McNeill from his job, following his admission that the bulk of payments will not be out by the end of March. 

But George Dunn, TFA chief executive, said: “I underlined to the minister that DEFRA is culpable for the mess we are in and that ministers should share the responsibility with Johnston McNeill. 

“Changing the chief executive alone will not make a jot of difference to the huge problems that exist. I made it clear that tenants were suffering great hardship and that if payments were not issued soon we faced meltdown”.

Mr Dunn said the association had told ministers that they have until Wednesday 22 March to come up with a plan for resolving the problems.

“Ministers may have had their “scalp” in removing Johnston McNeill but they should not believe that this will be sufficient to placate the angry farming community. 

“If we do not have a clear statement from ministers on the way ahead, then the DEFRA ministers must take personal responsibility” said Mr Dunn.

The TFA has already suggested, among other things, that the RPA should temporarily shut down its call centre and use the staff resource freed-up to get payments out.

Applicants should be told to contact their representative organisations for help and advice in the interim. 

Also, the RPA should focus on the customers with historical allocations and leave ‘first-time’ new applicants to be processed later on. 

“It is in the first category where pain and distress is being caused by the late payments,” said Mr Dunn.