22 February 2000
‘Unwired farmers to pay for subsidy claims’

By FWi staff

RADICAL proposals to streamline the Ministry of Agriculture by computerising subsidy claims could end up costing many farmers more, claim trade union chiefs.

A report by consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers proposes subsidy claims are submitted online instead of in person at local MAFF offices.

Personal contact with farmers would be phased out and all subsidy payments would become the responsibility of a single new paying agency.

Some 1750 regional staff at MAFF and the Intervention Board, which offers help with the Common Agricultural Policy, would be made redundant if the measures were implemented.

But the Public and Commercial Services Union says farmers without internet access would be forced to pay a “third-party agent” to submit subsidy forms.

PCS IB officer Mark Wolfe said: “The plans offer little respite to Britains beleaguered farmers.

“As well as removing vital local support, the proposals will force farmers to apply for aid via the internet.

“Farmers who are not online will have to pay a third party agent to submit their claims.”

PCS MAFF president Richard Cork said the proposals represented “a huge gamble with taxpayers money” through potential disallowance of subsidies.

The PCS says the present structure exceeds 98% efficiency in the payment of more than 3 billion in EU money.

If a replacement is less than 96% efficient, the EU will withhold money, leaving British taxpayers to pick up the bill.

PCS officials will meet farming minister Nick Brown on Thursday (24 February) to discuss the issue.