Public to get open access to farm support details

By Isabel Davies

 DETAILS OF how much money individual farmers in England received in support payments in each of the past two years are to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Rural Payments Agency has prepared a CD which will be sent on Tues (Mar 22) to all third parties who have requested information about payments.

The FoI Act, which came into force on Jan 1, 2005, provides a general right of access to all recorded information held by public authorities.

It is understood that the CD features a spreadsheet which lists, in alphabetical order, any company or individual in England that received a CAP payment in 2003 and 2004. The number of entries is believed to total more than 100,000.

 A DEFRA spokesman said the list would be based on the farm or business name that payments were made to, but no address would accompany it.

public interest

“We are publishing this as there is strong public interest in it,” said the spokesman. “Over 1.7bn of public money is spent on CAP payments, so the public does have a strong interest in knowing where it is spent.”

The spokesman said DEFRA had been obliged to consult stakeholders before deciding to give the go-ahead. “But the representations we have received have not convinced us there will be any commercial damage [to farmers as a result].”

The NFU confirmed that it had been in detailed discussions with DEFRA about disclosing payment details. It had asked about the inconsistency of why disclosure was to happen in England and seemingly not in Wales and Scotland. It had also objected strongly to DEFRA about not consulting with individual farmers to see if disclosure would cause them commercial damage or personal distress.

 NFU deputy president Peter Kendall said: “We do think that the government has been inconsistent in its application of the Act. We also argued that this blanket disclosure is not sensitive to the position of some individual farmers.”

 But Mr Kendall added: “Overall though we have no problem with the principle of transparency. Farmers manage 75% of the countryside, provide quality produce for consumers and employ thousands of people in rural communities. The information due to be released refers to payments for production. Now we are in a contract with society to manage the countryside. This is an old news story.”

The NFU has suggested that farmers who feel their businesses will be damaged by the release of the information can try making a representation to the RPA”s Access to Information Unit.

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