7 January 2002
Support payments still held up

By Isabel Davies

THE Rural Payments Agency has admitted that only 71% of arable farmers have received their annual support cheques.

Industrial action by civil servants over the past eight weeks has hampered attempts to get money out to farmers.

At this time last year 89% of claims had been passed for payment.

An agency spokeswoman said strike action by regional government staff had caused thousands of man-hours to be lost.

“But considering the situation, we have been trying to push as many payments through as we can,” she said.

But Richard Wordsworth, arable support schemes advisor for the National Farmers Union, said the situation was unsatisfactory.

“The delay in payments can have very damaging financial effects,” he said.

“We are very concerned about this and putting as much pressure on as possible to resolve the situation.”

It was worth remembering that even if payments had been passed they were still not in farmers hands or bank accounts, Mr Wordsworth added.

On the basis of the latest figures the agency was unlikely to meet its target of clearing 100% of payments by 31 January, he said.

The government could be fined by the European Union if the agency fails to meet the deadline at the end of this month.