The Rural Payments Agency’s mis-management of the single payment scheme could have cost farmers up to £22.5million, according to a National Audit Office report published today (17 October).
The report highlights how the RPA severely underestimated the risks and complexities involved with introducing a new payment system and how it failed to introduce a contingency plan should the system fail.
Implementation costs have so far reached £122 million (compared to a budgeted £76 million), but further increase are likely, especially as DEFRA could face an EU fine of as much as £131 million because of the errors.
Some 20% of farmers interviewed as part of the investigation said the delays had caused them distress and anxiety, with hill farmers particularly badly affected.
“Foremost among the Agency’s priorities now must be to determine if the administrative and computer systems for mapping land and processing claims are really up to the job,” said head of the NAO, Sir John Bourn.
“Until that happens, there is little prospect the problems will be remedied in time to deal with the 2006 claims.”
National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall said ministers must learn from the lessons set out in today’s report and get ready to make partial payments for 2006 in order to avoid a repeat of this year’s fiasco.
“Chief amongst them is the need for a contingency system that is ready for action and activated as soon as it becomes clear the main system cannot deliver what is needed. From where I sit, that day is fast approaching.
“With Irish and French farmers benefiting from advance payments ahead of the payment window and Scotland & Wales set to begin payments from 1 December, it looks like English farmers will be left out in the cold once again.”
Click here to view a copy of the NAO report and for more detail and reaction, see this Friday’s Farmers Weekly magazine (20 October 2006).