What’s your view of Margaret Beckett’s role? Read deputy news editor Isabel Davies’ entry on the Food For Thought blog and add your comments 

MPs have published a damning report which describes the government’s handling of the Single Payment Scheme as a “catastrophe” and suggests that former DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett should have been demoted, not promoted.

The report, published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, concluded that DEFRA had a duty of care to get payments to farmers on time, but it had failed to do so.

It pointed out that only one man – former chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency Johnston McNeill – had so far paid for this failure with the loss of his job.

The committee questioned why it was that Mrs Beckett, DEFRA’s 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.

Commenting on Mrs Beckett the cross-party group of MPs said: “It will seem strange to many in the rural economy that right at the top of DEFRA no price for failure has been paid by the now Foreign Secretary.

“It should be the case that when a Department fails to deliver a key programme right at the heart of its fundamental responsibilities the holder of the office of Secretary of State should not be rewarded with promotion but its reverse.”

Although Sir Brian has now moved to the Department of Trade and Industry, the committee said it would be astonished if he continued to hold the rank of Permanent Secretary.

“If he does not tender his resignation the Head of the Home Civil Service should explain why a failure such as this results in no penalty,” it said.

The committee was equally scathing about Mr Lebrecht. “His long standing knowledge of the importance of timely payments to farmers and his full involvement in the SPS project from its inception mean that he should now consider his position.

“If he chooses to stay, the department in its response to this report should explain to us in straightforward language why being so closely associated with the waste of large sums of government and farmers’ money and the widespread disruption of England’s rural economy should result in no personal penalty being paid.”

The committee said that RPA failed largely because DEFRA asked it to do too much in too short a time and did not pay enough heed to the agency’s warnings about the risks of what was being proposed.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “DEFRA will consider the conclusions and recommendations in this report carefully and will make a formal response to the committee.

“DEFRA has apologised for the problems farmers have experienced as a result of the implementation of the Single Payment Scheme – this has caused distress to the farming industry and the wider rural community.

“A new management team is in place at the RPA. We are confident that the senior management team can deliver.

“There will be no let up in putting in place further measures aimed at delivering a stable and reliable payment system in the years ahead.”

What’s your view of Margaret Beckett’s role? Read deputy news editor Isabel Davies’ entry on the Food For Thought blog and add your comments