Johnston McNeill has been ousted from his post as chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency because of the problems surrounding the delivery of the Single Payment Scheme.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett announced the move in a ministerial statement released on Thursday morning (16 Mar).

The statement read:

“The Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, Lord Bach, told the other House on 31st January that the RPA would establish entitlements in mid February and that all farmers would then receive an entitlement statement.

“This has now happened in all but around 1% of cases and payments did indeed start to be made before the end of February.

“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.

“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.

“With my approval, the Permanent Secretary of my Department, Helen Ghosh, has today appointed Mark Addison as Acting Chief Executive in place of Johnston McNeill.

“Mark Addison has outstanding experience and abilities which I believe fit him for this task, and I have asked him to report to me by Tuesday on the immediate steps needed to get us back on track.

“A new Chief Executive will be recruited as soon as possible to take on the task of leading the agency forward at this crucial time.

“Ministers had already concluded, on advice from the Permanent Secretary, that there were structural issues in the RPA which needed to be addressed over a longer period of time.

“I am therefore announcing today our decision to set up a fundamental review of the agency, to look at its current and possible future functions, and the effectiveness of its relationship with my Department and its other key stakeholders, and to make recommendations for the future.

“I know that this House and everyone in the farming community will be as disappointed as I am about the announcement I have had to make today, but a successful conclusion to the 2005 round of SPS and a smooth start to the 2006 scheme will remain one of the department’s highest priorities.

“RPA staff have worked with absolute dedication throughout, often in the face of considerable difficulties. I am sure they will continue to do so.”