MPs have accused junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach of being complacent about the impact of late payments on farmers in a damning report about the delivery of the Single Payment Scheme.
The environment, food and rural affairs select committee has published an interim report which revealed that it is deeply unimpressed by DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency’s failure to plan properly for the SPS.
The committee said it felt Lord Bach had shown “an unacceptable degree of complacency” about the financial impact of payment delays.
It was also dismayed he refused to admit that any mistakes have been made or that anything could have been done differently.
The RPA had also shown a lack of foresight and should have anticipated how much extra work would be involved with the new scheme, said the committee.
Many of the IT problems encountered could have been avoided with better planning and monitoring.
Given the complexities of the SFP model chosen by DEFRA, the group concluded, the government should have considered postponing its implementation until 2006.
Committee chairman Michael Jack said Lord Bach’s claim that some form of payment – either full or partial – would start by the end of February did not absolve him from criticism.
“The result of these failings is extra cost and more worry for England’s farmers and a bill for the taxpayer of an extra 18m to cover the 100% increase in the running costs of the IT systems tasked with delivering the new payments.”
Tim Bennett, NFU president, said the report confirmed what the industry had known all along – that the RPA’s bungling had placed a massive financial burden on individual farmers.
But Lord Bach defended his position, claiming he was deeply disappointed with the report.
“A number of the report’s assertions are utter nonsense.
Far from being complacent I am acutely aware of the importance of these payments for farmers’ livelihoods.”