Open invitation to Defra’s chief

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TODAY the Yorkshire Post would like to issue a personal invitation to Defra’s chief operating officer Ian Trenholm, who is presiding over the introduction of a new IT system to handle EU farm subsidy payments.

This newspaper challenges Mr Trenholm to spend a day with a hill farmer in remote North Yorkshire as he attempts to complete the Rural Payments Agency’s new application form online – Defra’s compulsory new requirement – and without broadband access.

If the Whitehall civil servant, who does not appear to be a man steeped in the intricacies of the countryside judging by his varied CV, demonstrate that this exercise can be undertaken smoothly, we will be prepared to accept his assurance that lessons have been learned from past fiascos.

If, however, an application cannot be submitted without the hard-pressed farmer in question having to purchase their own satellite broadband link – the suggestion that Mr Trenholm put forward to sceptical MPs at a Parliamentary select committee – then we hope that he will have the courtesy to withdraw this assertion and devise a more practical and pragmatic alternative.

For, after nearly a decade of chaos that was not of their own making, the last thing that the financially beleaguered agricultural industry needs is yet another bureaucrat from an office in London issuing orders which fail to take account of everyday realities on this region’s farms, and the communications difficulties which continue to be so time-consuming and frustrating for so many.

And Mr Trenholm’s failure to reassure to a sceptical Parliamentary select committee headed by North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh does not bode well after Defra ignored similar warnings 10 years ago when they first began to computerise the processing of subsidies.

The consequence? Inaccurate and late payments to thousands of Yorkshire farmers, a devastating National Audit Office report concluding that the RPA had “scant regard for public money” and the Government having to pay £500m in fines.

If Mr Trenholm does not wish to be responsible for a similar fiasco, he will not hesitate to accept this newspaper’s challenge – and explore this issue from the perspective of Yorkshire farmers. If he declines, we will not shy away from holding him to account if the proposed changes descend into farce – the understandable fear of many.

Over to you, Mr Trenholm.

Continuity of GP care is essential

THE return of traditional family doctors, and patients aged 75 and over being assigned to a GP, is tempered by disappointment that this once sacrosanct link was allowed to be broken by a New Labour government in 2004 that thought it knew best when it came to the NHS.

It did not. Its decision to dismantle the out-of-hours services for doctors, as part of a disastrous renegotiation of GP contracts, is one reason why hospital A&E services have become so stretched, even if Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham refuses to accept this.

As such, Jeremy Hunt – the current Health Secretary – deserves credit for having the foresight to place a greater onus on family practitioners to provide far more continuity of care than they have done in recent times.

It has the potential to save time and provide patients, particularly the elderly and frail, with the assurances that have been denied to them by a dysfunctional service.

However, Mr Hunt does have questions of his own to answer. He needs to convince his critics that the over-75s can receive an appointment, or telephone consultation, on the day they make contact with their local practice. This is not possible at present because receptionists are either inflexible or there are simply insufficient GPs to meet demand.

Then there is the report that reveals how spending on GP services has slumped. As such, it is still difficult to see how Mr Hunt’s remedies can work without this trend being reversed.

A success story: Invaluable work of Prince’s Trust

HOW fitting that the 10th anniversary of the Prince’s Trust Awards in Yorkshire coincided with the 65th birthday celebrations of the inspiration behind the charity – Prince Charles himself.

This celebration would not have been possible without the energy that the Prince of Wales brings to the issue of youth training.

And, to those who still question the heir to the throne’s role and purpose, perhaps they should take up their concerns with Connor Lancaster. After contracting meningitis as a youngster, and then developing terminal cancer, he is able to make the most of his life thanks to the Prince’s Trust’s xl club which helps pupils who have fallen behind in class. More recently, the charity enabled this inspirational 15-year-old to take part in a cricket initiative so he could enjoy the camaraderie of a team sport that others would take for granted.

Put simply, the future for thousands of young people would be a bleaker one without the enduring work of the Prince’s Trust, and the generosity of all those who help to contribute to these uplifting success stories.

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