21 December 2001
Few support cheques paid – poll

By Isabel Daviess

A STRAW poll of arable farmers in the East Midlands has found that only two out of 51 have received their arable area payment cheques.

Farmers representatives say this shows that industrial action by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs staff is causing severe delays.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) claimed last week that in the first three weeks of the payment window it had paid out just over 50% of claims.

Usually 60-70% of payments are paid within this time frame.

However, RPA claims are at odds with an e-mail poll carried out by Simon Fisher, National Farmers Union policy advisor for Lincolnshire.

His findings suggest that few farmers in some areas having received payments. “It shows how unsatisfactory the whole situation is,” said Mr Fisher.

“Its very frustrating for producers because they cant do a great deal to remedy the situation and get payments out quicker.”

A farmers wife from Lincolnshire, who asked not be named, said she had not heard of anyone who had actually received their payment.

But attempts to get an explanation from her local office in Nottingham failed.

“I phoned but was told they couldnt do anything because they were moving office,” she said. “What a time to start moving furniture,”.

She added that it was “disgusting” that the delays were caused by staff taking industrial action.

“If they are going to have a strike it shouldnt affect the people they are there to serve. It should affect the people they have a grudge against.”

Industrial action is being taken by ex-Ministry of Agriculture members of the Public and Commercial Services Union in England.

Strikes have taken place across the country and the 3500 staff involved have been asked not to work overtime or beyond the terms of their contracts.

Ex-MAFF staff are furious that they earn less than civil servants transferred to Defra from the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Earlier in the dispute union representative Sheila Pickman asked farmers “to be as sympathetic to our needs as we have been to theirs over the years”.

No one from the Rural Payments Agency was available for comment.