The chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency has warned that 2007 is going to be another challenging year.

In a New Year message written for Farmers Weekly, Tony Cooper said that he, like producers, would be glad to put 2006 behind him.

The agency had been working hard to put right many of the problems of the past year and was in better shape to make payments, he said.

“But I have to be honest with you:  we are on the right track but there is no quick fix to put everything right overnight.

“So, realistically, I expect to see gradual improvements at best over 2007, moving to a stable position for 2008.”

Mr Cooper said the RPA had a challenging year ahead but he was committed to keeping industry stakeholders informed and involved with progress on all the key issues.

“You can rest assured that all of us at RPA will continue doing everything in our power to get money to you and improve your experience of dealing with us.”

The statement in full is as follows:

“With the high profile problems of implementing the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) over the last year that caused hardship for many farmers and headaches for RPA, I think we will all be glad to see 2006 firmly behind us.

“While the start of 2007 sees us working hard to put right many of the legacy difficulties of the previous year, we are in better shape when it comes to starting full SPS payments earlier and, where those are not possible, making partial payments on eligible claims over €1,000 from mid-February.

“In the last few months I have strengthened my management team, been actively involved in corporate governance changes of the organisation, appointed site heads to our offices across the country and been developing the systems we need for better management information and Whole Case Working to simplify how claims are dealt with.  These significant changes behind-the-scenes at RPA are part of a strategic plan being developed to improve delivery in 2007 and beyond.

“But I have to be honest with you:  we are on the right track but there is no quick fix to put everything right overnight. So, realistically, I expect to see gradual improvements at best over 2007, moving to a stable position for 2008.

“We have a challenging year ahead but I am committed to keeping industry stakeholders informed and involved with our progress on all the key issues. A constructive partnership is key to success and the progressive improvements over time that we all want to see so that we can deliver improved customer service. You can rest assured that all of us at RPA will continue doing everything in our power to get money to you and improve your experience of dealing with us.” – Tony Cooper