The chief of Rural Payments Agency has assured MPs single farm payment deadlines will be met this year.
Agency chief Mark Grimshaw told MPs on the government’s Environment, Food and Rural Committee that European Union targets to pay just over 95% of farmers by the end of June would be met.
And he said the agency was “absolutely focused” on improving the speed of payments and their accuracy.
Addressing an evidence session in Westminster on Wednesday (11 May), Mr Grimshaw said he was producing a five-year plan for the agency, due to be published in October, which would set out ways for the agency to improve its service.
He said “small and incremental” improvements were being made to the agency’s much-maligned computer system and that steps he had put in place since joining the RPA in December were “stabilising” the agency.
“We should see claims being more accurate and going through more quickly by the end of the 2011-12 claim year,” he said.
Responding to criticisms from committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh that there were still farmers waiting payments from 2009, RPA Corporate Owner Katrina Williams said agency staff were being properly trained in dealing payment issues.
Mr Grimshaw’s past post at the Child Support Agency showed he had done “exactly the right job” that DEFRA wanted him to do at the agency, she added.
Despite claiming to make improvements, Conservative MP Neil Parrish said he was disappointed the agency had failed to meet government targets of 95% of the value of claims being paid by the end of March.
“You only reached 88%,” he said. “After six or seven years, I can’t understand why you can’t get payments out earlier.
“It’s only when you get a gun to your head that you start delivering on targets. Farmers are absolutely fed up.”
Mr Grimshaw said the agency had met the government’s a little later than expected, but that by Tuesday (10 May) 93.61% of the fund value had been paid to farmers
“I have set an internal target to get to 99% of value that’s payable by the end of June.
“We are absolutely focused on achieving accurate payments quickly.
“To pay in the payment window is one of the challenges I have picked up from Jim Paice and DEFRA.”