Rural payments chief Mark Grimshaw has publicly insisted he is the right man to deliver a vastly improved support payments service to farmers ahead of the new payment window which opens on December 1.
MPs asked whether successive government ministers were right to declare their confidence in his leadership at the end of a year of missed payments targets and late and inaccurate settlements.
We are going to be demonstrating far better performance levels for BPS 2016 and we expect 2017 to get off to a very good start.Mark Grimshaw, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency
The head of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), answering questions about his agency’s performance at an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee hearing, vowed that the last 1,000 or so of unsettled 2015 Basic Payment Scheme claims would be “closed” by early January at the latest.
Mr Grimshaw also said the Agency was “looking good” for meeting the government target of paying 90 per cent of farmers by the end of December when the 2016 scheme opens for payments.
Responding to MPs who questioned whether ministers’ faith in him was justified, Mr Grimshaw said: “They are absolutely right to have confidence in me as I believe this committee should have confidence in me as well, mainly because there is no one in this country that understands the Bsic Payment Scheme, the history or the payments system that we have got in place better than I do.”
He added: “We are going to be demonstrating far better performance levels for BPS 2016 and we expect 2017 to get off to a very good start.”
The RPA has been criticised by MPs for poor communication with those farmers who were hit with delayed payments this year.
Asked whether those complaints had been addressed, Mr Grimshaw said: “Not only have we learned the lessons we can actively demonstrate with actions that we have turned the corner in terms of communication.”
He said autumn updates were being sent to 80,000 farmers this week and, unlike last year, claimants whose farms are inspected before payments are made will receive inspection reports afterwards, while remittance advice will be sent to farmers within five days of a payment being made.
MPs sought assurances that those farmers who had been disproportionately affected by payment delays and inaccuracies this year - including farmers of common land, those whose land straddled national borders and others whose farms were inspected - would not face the same treatment this year.
Mr Grimshaw said the online applications interface and inspections process had been greatly improved and that those farmers with more complicated cases would start to be paid from the first day of December.
Looking ahead to the new payment window, the agency chief said: “We are making good progress. We are pleased at where we have got to at this point in the year and we are looking good for 90 per cent at the end of December.”
After the hearing, Adam Bedford, regional director of the National Farmers’ Union for Yorkshire and the North East, said: “We will be keeping up the pressure on the RPA to make sure they deliver on their promises.
“Obviously farmers know their own farms better than anyone and there has been a number of different issues this years such as land mapping that have held up payments so any improvement is welcome. I seriously hope it does improve, it needs to improve.”