Defra must ensure farmers receive timely and accurate support payments under the new Basic Payment Scheme, MPs have warned.
The warning is contained in a report on Defra Performance in 2013-14, published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Tuesday (10 January).
Defra secretary Liz Truss and and Defra permanent secretary Bronwyn Hill must make it a priority to review progress with the new scheme, says the document.
In particular, the report says they must “ensure that effective mechanisms, including IT systems, are in place to provide timely, accurate CAP payments to farmers”.
With the main provisions of the new CAP coming into play in 2015, the report says Defra, the Rural Payments Agency and farmers are “having to adjust to a complex set of new rules”.
It adds: “It is therefore vital that Defra and its agencies ensure that lessons learnt from problems with payments under the previous CAP schemes are taken forward effectively.”
This will minimise the risk of the UK having to pay Brussels fines – or disallowances – for making inaccurate CAP payments to farmers.
Since the introduction of 2005 CAP, Defra accounts have recognised £580m worth of disallowance penalties, imposed by the European Commission on the UK government.
Committee chair Anne McIntosh said: “It is worrying that there is still a significant risk of further penalties being incurred.”
She added: “It is absolutely vital that Defra and the RPA use lessons learnt to minimise disallowance risks in future.”
The document welcomes the CAP Delivery Programme put in place by Defra and the Rural Payments Agency to prepare for the new rules applying from 2015.
But it warns: “It is essential that the department closely monitors performance and that early action is taken to rectify any problems.”