More farmers can expect to receive their single farm payments on time, claims the Rural Payments Agency, which has announced plans to overhaul its dated computer system.
The multi-million pound plan has been designed to stabilise the agency during the remaining CAP period and procure replacement systems to meet the challenges of the new CAP 2013 schemes.
The RPA claims the five-year project will offer farmers a “fast, responsive and easy-to-access service”.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said the plan aims to overcome the agency’s legacy of inaccuracy, poor timeliness and failure to deliver value for money.
In the plan’s dossier, the agency concedes its customer service has often been poor, highlighting that single farm payments “have been paid late or inaccurately, or both”.
“Our interaction with our customers could often be vastly improved, and complaints and appeals have sometimes been poorly handled,” it added.
“As a result of this plan, our customers will receive a vastly better service through speedier and more accurate direct payments, but also a greatly improved service if they have queries or concerns.”
Mr Grimshaw said the RPA had made a steady improvement in performance over the past year.
The latest figures show £1.56bn – 90.7% of the estimated fund value – has been paid to 98,185 English farmers (93.7% of eligible claimants) by Monday (6 February)
Looking ahead, Mr Grimshaw said delivering the plan would be a “real challenge”, but one the agency was determined to see through.
“I think it’s important the industry recognises there is no silver bullet, or quick fix,” he said.
“Previously, the agency has tried to do this over six to 12 months, but it’s just not feasible. It’s a bit of a slog to get this sorted.
“We have documented in the five-year plan 45 different issues which are critically important to getting us to the point where we can offer an exemplary system that farmers deserve.”
DEFRA is funding the project with an additional £21.8m in the next financial year, including a further £19.1m provisionally earmarked for the following two financial years.
Farming minister Jim Paice said the plan set out a clear path to deal with the RPA’s historical problems to ensure the agency provided a high level of service in the future.