5 January 1996

Beet men angry as BSoverpayment is clawed back

By Philip Clarke

SUGAR beet growers who produced C beet last season are to have £2.93/t taken from their next payments.

Letters from British Sugar have been arriving on doormats this week notifying 6500 producers of the deductions, which relate to an over-payment in the £13.14/t that went out in November.

Growers have reacted with dismay and annoyance at the mistake, which will result in £3.13m being recouped, equivalent to an average £480 for each producer affected.

"I have received numerous phone call from growers wanting to know how such a mistake could have been made," said Eric Welburn, chairman of the NFUs Yorkshire sugar beet committee. The deductions would be particularly unwelcome for those producers also waiting for delayed IACS payments.

The letter from BS offers no explanation as to how the overpayment occurred.

But it is understood that it is due to a change in the payment system relating to "clawback".

This is the amount of C beet which is used to make up for any shortfall in the contract tonnage nationally and as such is valued at the A/B price.

It used to be that growers received the full A/B price on a percentage of their C beet. But this has changed so that BS now spreads the extra money across the growers total C beet.

Thus growers who have exceeded their quotas now see no change to their A/B contract tonnes on their beet invoices but get an enhanced price for their C beet.

BSs mistake, according to NFU sources, has been to use the old methodology on the new programme, which has led to an element of double counting. As such the total C beet price was paid out at £21.21 per adjusted tonne (£8.07 in April and £13.14 in November) instead of the correct figure of £18.28. The difference (£2.93/t) is to be deducted from next payments to producers.

Some growers have suggested that, since the figures are audited by the NFU, the error should have been picked up sooner.

But any responsibility is denied by NFU sugar beet chairman, Matt Twidale. "We do audit the C beet payments and that was done to everyones satisfaction. But we do not see BSs computer run so could not see that it had been applied to the wrong tonnage.

"I am not happy, because it raises peoples hopes only to have them dashed. Though no one is being under-paid, the invoices should be accurate and correct first time round."

BS has apologised for any inconvenience and says procedures have been put in place to ensure it does not happen again.

&#8226 Yorkshire beet growers are being offered 35p/t plus 2p/mile as a one-off payment for deliveries to the York factory on each of the next four Sundays as part of a voluntary trial.