DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) have been slated after the publication of a report into the delays in administering the 2005 Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

The report by the Committee of Public Accounts said the RPA had failed to meet its own target of paying 96% of the £1,515m allocated to farmers by March 2006. Only 15% of farmers received payments on time and 3000 were still unpaid at the end of October 2006.

DEFRA’s deliberate choice to implement the most complex option for reform in the shortest possible timescale led to a series of risks which individually would have been severe but collectively were unmanageable, the report stated.

Public Accounts Committee chairman, Edward Leigh MP said: “The implementation last year to a near-impossible timetable was a master class in bad decision, poor planning, confused lines of responsibility and a failure by the management team to face up to the unfolding crisis.”

“The delays in paying grants to farmers left a significant minority in a financially precarious position.”

Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat Shadow DEFRA secretary, Chris Huhne said the report confirmed the Labour government has been as unmitigated disaster for rural Britain.

“The problems with the new single payments scheme were obvious. While Wales and Scotland introduced their changes with minimal problems, DEFRA wasted hundreds of million of pounds of taxpayers’ money in England.

“Many were pushed close to financial ruin with less than one in five farmers being paid by the deadline. This bureaucratic fiasco must never be repeated.”

To read the full report see here.