Minister vows to sort out RPA failures

Farm minister Jim Paice has pledged to reverse the failures of the Rural Payments Agency to ensure it provides a better service to farmers.

Mr Paice said he would take full responsibility to revitalise the agency, which has been beset by problems since it was set up in 2002 to administer £2.3bn in single farm payments to farmers in England.

His pledge came as a damning report criticised the agency’s senior management and its performance in delivering payments.

The independent review, commissioned by the Labour government and published on Tuesday (20 July), slammed the RPA’s delays in paying farmers, its expensive and unworkable IT system and the high costs of processing claims.

Despite the criticisms in the report, Mr Paice said it was not practical to “start again” with the IT system, which he conceded was not fit for purpose, until after the reform of the CAP in 2013.

“The current CAP only has two and a half years left to run so it would be madness to reinvest in a new system that may only be needed for a few years,” he said.

“However beyond 2013 I’m not proposing we keep the current system.”

He also rejected the review’s recommendations to rebrand the agency because of the costs attached.

Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth praised the government for attempting to get to grips with an agency “synonymous with waste and incompetence”.

“With significant CAP reforms due we cannot afford to reinvent the wheel,” he added. “But we can find ways of making the current systems farm more efficient than they currently are.”

William Worsely, Country Land and Business Association chairman, welcomed the minister’s decision to personally tackle problems at the RPA.

“His determination to change the agency is encouraging,” he said.
“There is undoubtedly a vast amount to do but, with a new leadership in place the RPA could one day provide farmers and land managers with the quality of service they deserve.”

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