22 November 2001
Subsidy delays unacceptable – NFU

By Tom Allen-Stevens

The National Farmers Union has attacked the governments record on Arable Area Aid Payments calling it “the worst in Europe”.

NFU Cereals Committee Chairman Richard Butler told FWi current delays, caused by strike action by the new Rural Payments Agency, were unacceptable.

“This industrial action has been threatened for some months, and the Department for Rural Affairs is no closer to a resolution,” he said.

“This is the ninth year arable farmers have received direct payments and still the government makes an absolute Horlicks of it.

“Meanwhile we know that in many other European countries all payments are made inside a fortnight of the two month window allowed.”

The Scottish Executives head of Arable Crops Policy, Bill Denholm announced at the Crops Conference that payments would start on 16 November.

“As of Monday 19 November, Scottish farmers bank accounts swelled to the tune of 38 million – a third of the total amount to be paid,” he said.

The current dispute at the RPA is over pay – former Department of Environment staff were paid higher salaries than their colleagues in the farming ministry.

The RPA is now working a two-day week, which may push many payments beyond the 31 January deadline, the NFU has warned.

The delays are likely to hit tenant farmers hardest – many now rely on the IACS cheque for late payment of rent, due on 30 September.

“A lot of tenants are hanging on till the end of November,” said chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association George Dunn.

“If no IACS cheque arrives by December or January, they simply wont have the money to pay.

“If this dispute drags on, the fate of many of our members will rely entirely on the goodwill of their landlords.”

The NFU is calling on banks to take a sympathetic view, but Mr Butler said finances for many farmers were already at breaking point.

“Some farmers only have a third of their normal crop, the import levy has been removed, and theres no agrimoney compensation. This will be the last straw.”

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