24 July 2000
Unclear future for six MAFF offices
by FWi staff
THE future of six regional Ministry of Agriculture offices is in doubt after the government confirmed proposals to streamline farm subsidy claims.
MAFF offices at Bristol, Cambridge, Crewe, Nottingham, and Worcester have been omitted from plans to transfer farm subsidy claims to the internet.
A further regional MAFF office at Reading will help provide expertise as the Intervention Board office in the same town oversees the new payments system.
The shake-up is part of the governments plan to cut costs by creating a new executive agency which will deal with subsidy payments to farmers.
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown made the announcement in a written statement to the House of Commons on Monday (24th July).
He hopes to switch 95% of subsidy claims to the internet by 2004 and has secured 130m to help set up a new executive agency to oversee payments.
The Common Agricultural Policy Payments Agency (CAPPA) will take charge of subsidies from MAFF and the Intervention Board, said Mr Brown.
An estimated 1350 jobs are set to go under the plan which MAFF expects will save taxpayers 30m a year in the cost of administering subsidy payments.
Regional MAFF and Intervention Board offices at Carlisle, Northallerton, Exeter and Newcastle will be turned into regional CAPPA offices.
The Intervention Board office at Reading will be turned into CAPPA headquarters, building on expertise the regional MAFF office in the same town.
Ministry employees, who have opposed the plan, were left confused when told of the restructuring plans during staff meetings on Monday (24 July).
A letter sent by MAFF Permanent Secretary Brian Bender to ministry staff said: I hope you will see that all the existing offices have a future.
But a Whitehall briefing which accompanied the letter on the ministrys intranet site said: It is too difficult to maintain more than five sites.
We would lose benefits of improved scheme control, consistency and quality that the European Union and National Audit Office want us to deliver.
At a simultaneous press conference in London, Mr Brown denied that the remaining offices would be shut down completely before 2003 at the earliest.
Some staff at offices not included in the CAPPA plans would still be employed to help the delivery of other rural development policies, he insisted.
However, these arrangements which include the delivery of the Rural Development Programme will be reviewed in 2003, said Mr Brown.