15 May 1998

Quick payment of subsidies unlikely

THERE will be no early solution to the problem of late subsidy payments in Wales, says Welsh secretary Ron Davies.

"I am pretty unhappy about the payment process," Mr Davies told the FUWs annual meeting. "There is an inherent flaw in the system. The day has dawned when we have to face up to what has been a long-term Welsh Office problem."

But, while he appreciated the immediate problems faced by farmers, he was not interested in again shoring up the system for one more year.

Radical reform was necessary and he was ready to take tough decisions. This could mean transferring responsibility for providing an effective and efficient bi-lingual service to MAFF, the Intervention Board, or some other agency.

Management specialists had been invited to tender solutions, and in the meantime his staff would try to supply the best possible service with the available resources.

This is unlikely to satisfy the hundreds of farmers who are waiting for payments. Both farming unions have been inundated with complaints, but have been told that payment of sheep premium, which English farmers started receiving on Apr 1 will not begin in Wales for another week.

"It is not just that the computer starts running later in Wales, the lack of resources means that even minor queries can take months to resolve," claimed Arwyn Owen, FUW commo-dities executive. "Without support payments Welsh farmers are at a serious financial disadvantage. This is especially worrying at a time when incomes have been slashed and many businesses are in trouble."

A Carmarthenshire farmer who sent forms relating to leased out sheep quota to his local divisional office on Feb 2 still awaits payment.