Former RPA chief given £326,000 golden goodbye

The former chief of the Rural Payments Agency received a ‘golden goodbye’ of more than £300,000 when he walked away from the beleaguered agency last year.

Tony Cooper, who was the RPA’s chief executive for four years, also received a bonus of up to £15,000 when he retired in July 2010.

The payments were revealed in the agency’s annual accounts for 2011.

The report details an exit package of about £311,000, which included early retirement benefits of £243,803 and £67,007 in respect of “compensation in lieu of notice”.

Mr Cooper – who took early retirement last year for personal reasons – earned a salary of £125,000. The sum included untaken annual leave worth £12,886, as well as a bonus of £15,000.

He also retires with a pension pot of £1.3m, with a lump sum of £190,000 available to him.

The accounts showed the agency also employed three temporary finance directors during the last financial year, costing £500,000 in wages and recruitment fees.

Conservative Anne McIntosh MP, who is also chairwoman of the government’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, said the financial packages appeared generous in the context of the agency’s poor performance in paying out single farm payments.

“Clearly, the fact the Audit Commission wouldn’t sign off the accounts shows there is some concern over the whole performance of the RPA,” she told the Western Morning News.

“As a constituency MP I am still getting a lot of complaints, including from farmers who have been waiting since 2009 for payments.

“There is a lot of unhappiness with the performance of the RPA and as a committee we do not think it is appropriate to have performance-related bonuses when the performance has been so woeful.”

Mrs McIntosh said the fact the agency had employed three financial directors in one year did not indicate they were delivering good value.

“It seems a very generous package – I hope that we can now move on because it is the farming community who are losing out,” she added.

Mr Cooper’s replacement, Mark Grimshaw, has pledged to make significant improvements to the agency and said he was working on a five-year plan to help the agency improve its role.

Mr Grimshaw, who previously led the Child Support Agency, said he had recruited a new team of directors to the agency in a bid to change its operations and properly tackle the problems with payment delays.

An RPA spokeswoman told the Western Morning News that the agency had reduced its reliance on contractors and agency staff and had “reorganised and streamlined corporate services”.

“A new chief executive has been recruited who has embarked on robust restructuring to transform the agency for the future,” she added.

“He has promised no sugar-coating of tough issues and no room for poor performance.”