MPs have accused DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency of botching the delivery of the Single Payment Scheme and being complacent about the impact of late payments.
The environment, food and rural affairs select committee has published an interim report which revealed that it is deeply unimpressed by DEFRA and the RPA’s failure to plan properly for the SPS.
The cross-party group of MPs said it was dismayed at the complacency of junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach who had refused to admit that any mistakes have been made or that anything could have been done differently.
It also felt that the minister had shown “an unacceptable degree of complacency” about the financial impact of payments delays on individual businesses.
The RPA should have anticipated how much extra work would be involved with the new scheme by carrying out a sampling assessment, it said.
“We believe that the lack of foresight shown by the RPA, and the apparent lack of analysis about the possible impacts of the implementation model, is not acceptable.”
Committee chairman Michael Jack said Lord Bach’s claim that some form of payment will be made by the end of February did not absolve him from the criticisms made by the group.
“My members were taken aback at the lack of appreciation, in planning the new system, of the volumes of extra work it would create, especially when it was DEFRA which was at the heart of agreeing the policy that underpins the SFP.
“I am looking forward to the committee being able to publish its full report into the debacle where we can spell out in more detail the story of the botched delivery of the SFP.”
Tim Bennett, NFU president, said the report confirmed what the industry had known all along – that the RPA’s bungling has placed a massive financial burden on individual farmers and some were in grave danger of sinking as a result.
“Both the RPA and the government need to take responsibility for this mess and go some small way to redressing their failure by making sure that full payments are made to farmers as soon as possible.”
But junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach hit out at the report’s conclusions.
“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 and have been working closely with the RPA, the NFU, farmers, banks and others to ensure payments are made on the date we have promised and wider concerns addressed.
“This has been and remains my first priority.”