Minister fails to guarantee 90 per cent farm target

THE FARMING Minister fell short of guaranteeing that 90 per cent of farmers will be paid support money in December, despite the promise having been made by the head of the Government's Rural Payments Agency only a fortnight earlier.

Farming Minister George Eustice appeared before MPs today to give evidence on the progress of EU farming support payments at a hearing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
Farming Minister George Eustice appeared before MPs today to give evidence on the progress of EU farming support payments at a hearing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

George Eustice refused to be drawn on figures, instead saying he had confidence in the agency’s chief Mark Grimshaw.

Speaking at an EFRA Select Committee hearing, the Minister said he was happy with the progress of 2015 payments - despite thousands of farmers still waiting to be paid because of administrative IT failures.

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On a day when farmers marched through London to highlight the cash crisis in their industry, Mr Eustice added that he was not aware of any farmers going out of business solely as a consequence of the delays.

A hangover may remain from last year’s scheme but 845 farmers have already completed applications for the EU’s Basic Payment Scheme ahead of the next payment window which opens on December 1.

MPs pressed Mr Eustice on whether he believed Mr Grimshaw’s 90 per cent target was feasible, and he said: “We’ve had a lot of figures and a lot of targets and having had a lot of experience of how IT works or sometimes doesn’t work in the last two years, all I can say is I have a huge amount of confidence in Mark Grimshaw.”

Committee chairman, Neil Parish MP, asked: “You don’t want to put on record that you are confident that 90 per cent of the payments will be made by the end of December?”

Mr Eustice replied: “I’m confident we’ll be back to normal business but I’m not going to put hard figures on it.”

Among those worst hit by the payment delays are 4,000 common land farmers and 9,000 others who have been subject to inspections to verify applications.

Mr Eustice told MPs: “From the difficult start we had we’ve done well to get the payments out as quickly as we can, particularly given the background to this which is the most complicated CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) ever.”