23 August 2002

More aid delays if DEFRAstrikes

By Isabel Davies

FURTHER delays to support payments could occur if civil servants working for DEFRA vote in favour of strike action because of differences in salaries between staff.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is preparing to ballot members on industrial action to secure an increase in pay levels for former MAFF staff. Members who were employed by MAFF are paid £2000/year less than colleagues who transferred into the department from the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

A union spokesman said strikes over the issue last year were suspended after the Treasury agreed to offer a 10% increase to former MAFF staff. But people were still earning less than their colleagues and members were becoming increasingly frustrated, he added.

Many livestock farmers are already waiting for the balance of 2001 subsidy payments. But these are late because the Rural Payments Agency is checking claims against information held by the British Cattle Movement Service before making payments.

NFU president Ben Gill urged farmers to check their data to help speed up the process or there was a very real risk that 2002 payments could also be delayed.

"I urge all producers to obtain a copy of their records via the BCMS web-site and check they are accurate and that any amendments are notified immediately. Those without internet access should ask the BCMS for a print-out of their records."

The National Beef Association stressed farmers who wanted to avoid similar problems next year should consider trying to get access to a computer. NBA chief executive Robert Forster said farmers would be asked to declare all data held by the BCMS was correct when submitting IACS form next year.

Although farmers could request a paper copy of their data the easiest way to check it was electronically, said Mr Forster. "If you havent got a computer then you are handicapped and payment problems could increase." &#42

&#8226 A powerful parliamentary committee has called on DEFRA to tighten up its fraud prevention and detection measures.

The Public Accounts Committee said the case of Joseph Bowden, a farmer found guilty of a £157,000 fraud in 2000, was down to appallingly lax controls by public bodies.

Improvements were needed even though steps had since been taken to prevent further frauds occurring, a committee report said.

Measures to improve the quality of inspections, the verification of claims and cross-checks between schemes needed to be implemented more quickly.