Labour has accused the Government of burying its head in the sand over performance problems with a new computer system for farmers to claim EU subsidies online.
Plans to switch to digital-only claims were suspended last week after the National Farmers Union described “weeks of significant frustration to farmers”, some of whom had spent hundreds of pounds trying to submit claims in time for the May deadline.
Farmers in England are now being contacted - by email - to be told they can submit their claims using traditional paper forms. The new system will be used only for farmers to register and download forms to print out.
Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said today she was “astounded” her opposite number had not come to answer an urgent question on the matter in the Commons, sending farming minister George Eustice in her place.
She added: “Many farmers will be depending on the basic payment scheme to keep their businesses afloat and on prompt payment to maintain vital cash flow.
She criticised the “disastrous late admission” from ministers that the mapping function of the system does not work, calling it a “serious blow” to hard-working farmers.
“We have all heard rumours for weeks, but the Government has blithely continued, heads in the sand, simply insisting everything will work,” she added.
“Many farmers who have endured incredible frustration trying to use the system to map their land or have paid agents to do it for them now face having to do it all again on paper and at one of the busiest times of the farming year.
“How frustrating and wasteful of time and hard-earned money.
“Can you please tell the House why have ministers repeatedly given assurances that the system works that have turned out not to be accurate?
“For those farmers who have paid agents to make their claims online, will they be compensated for having now to pay them again to submit the same information?
“There has previously been insistence the scheme is too complex for paper. Now we have reverted to paper. Is there therefore an increased risk of errors which could result in penalties?”