SFP rescue could take until July

DEFRA’s newly appointed troubleshooter at the Rural Payments Agency, Mark Addison, has set out his plan to get payments out to England’s farmers amid speculation that some claims won’t be resolved until July.

Mr Addison was brought in as acting chief executive for the RPA to replace Johnston McNeill who was ousted last week.

Mr Addison immediately began crisis talks with key officials and carried out a review of the situation at the RPA over the weekend.

He was said, by one industry insider, to have been surprised by the scale of the task.

His findings were submitted to DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett late on Tuesday (21 March) and industry leaders were called to London to hear how Mr Addison planned to deal with RPA debacle.

Although DEFRA was keeping tight-lipped about the Wednesday meeting, believed to be on the table was a six-point plan:

  • Re-focusing of resources. Specific personnel skilled in the Single Payment Scheme would be drafted in to tackle the claim backlog. The move signals Mr Addison’s awareness that earlier attempts to boost staff numbers, brought in workers with little knowledge of the SPS which at times added to the confusion over claims.
  • Removal of four checks at the authorisation stage of claims. Currently there are six checks made after the validation process has been completed and before the payment is made. Only two checks will now be made before the payment is released.
  • Priority given to claimants with a significant historic element to their payment. The aim of this would be to move the so-called “pony paddock claimants” to the back of the queue.
  • Mapping effort centralised to Reading to enable a quicker response to mapping enquiries.
  • Decisions will be reviewed at weekly meetings with the TFA, NFU and CLA to gauge the impact of the changes as they are made and to allow a quicker response if needed.
  • Changes will be made at the RPA to streamline the command chain and improve the speed at which decisions can be made and processed.

In addition to these points, Farmers Weekly has learned that junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach is expected to hold a key meeting with senior bank officials next week.

It is thought he will call for a more lenient approach to be taken towards farmers who are struggling financially.

Notably absent from the plan is any commitment to extend the deadline for entitlement transfers.

The existing deadline is 2 April which allows for a six-week notification period before 15 May.

Farm leaders had called for a reduction in the six-week period to enable transferees to claim payment on entitlements before the 15 May deadline for applications.

Also missing appears to be any commitment to make an interim payment to farmers and any new deadline by which the RPA expects payments to be made, prompting speculation that some payments will not arrive on farms before July.


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