The chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, Johnston McNeill, has been forced out of his job because of the RPA’s failure to get single farm payments out on time.
DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett announced Mr McNeill’s departure from his £150,000-a-year post in a parliamentary statement issued last Thursday (16 March).
Mrs Beckett said Mr McNeill had been removed following his admission that the agency will not manage to get the bulk of payments out to farmers by the end of March.
“Ministers have throughout been advised that, following the validation of claims, the RPA expected to make the bulk of payments by the end of the month,” she said.
“Late on Tuesday afternoon the chief executive informed me that their latest reassessment of the position was that this would no longer be possible.
This is an unacceptable situation.
“I have concluded that urgent action is needed to strengthen the leadership of the agency.
With my approval, the permanent secretary of my department, Helen Ghosh, has appointed Mark Addison as acting chief executive in place of Johnston McNeill.”
The move drew immediate criticism from political opposition. Conservative MP and shadow minister for agriculture Jim Paice said he considered the first priority to get the money out to farmers before establishing who is to blame.
“It’s an issue of priorities.
The first priority should be to get the money to farmers that they so desperately need.
This should be in full, if that is not possible then as partial payments, but they must receive something and soon.
Then, when this debacle is resolved, we can look to see who is accountable for this mess.”