RPA votes to strike as under-pressure farmers wait for BPS cash

Staff at the Rural Payments Agency have voted to strike at a critical time of the year as thousands of farmers and land managers in England wait for the remainder of their Basic Payment Scheme cash.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will hold rolling strikes from 13 December to 16 January.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is among several government departments that have voted to strike over pay, pensions and other terms.

See also: England BPS stays at 2021 rate but with 20-40% cut to total sum

In the RPA, 91% of members supported strike action on a 73% turnout – well above the required legal threshold of 50%.

Staff in the RPA’s customer service team have been told to take strike action on 13-16 and 19-23 December, as well as 3-6 and 9-13 of January.

PCS said in a statement: “We believe this will have a major impact on the employer’s ability to administer the work of the Rural Payments Agency at a critical time of year.”

The RPA is due to start making the remaining Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments to farmers in England from 1 December.

Farmers have already received 50% of their expected entitlement; those payments were made in July to help businesses struggling with cashflow amid soaring inflation and exceptionally dry growing conditions.

NFU senior BPS adviser Richard Wordsworth said: “We are in regular contact with the RPA and are waiting to find out what activity will be impacted by the strikes.

“In the meantime, we urge members to keep responding to any queries they receive from the RPA that would impact on the timing of a payment or an agreement.”

Merseyside farmer Olly Harrison criticised the strikes in a video posted on Twitter and urged the RPA to ensure all cash was paid to farmers before the action begins.

“Do us a favour before you go off. Make sure you pay all the single farm payments before the 13th when you leave and turn the lights and heating off in the offices so we can save a bit of money, because there are farmers out there who can’t afford to feed their animals without that money,” Mr Harrison said.

An RPA spokesperson said: “We have established and tested plans to continue to deliver our services to farmers in the event of any disruption, such as industrial action.

“We expect the majority of farmers to get their BPS payments by the end of December.”