Government Ambitions to deliver a far superior service to farmers when the new support payments window opens next month have been called into question by industry officials.
Repeated commitments from both the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), which administers the money from European Union funds, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to pay at least 90 per cent of all farmers by the end of December does not offer enough certainty, according to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).
Those promises - though they would equate to a much better performance than the troubled 2015 payments process - still offer little confidence to those who will be made to wait longer, the NFU contests.
After an aborted online-only applications process last year, in the first year of the EU’s new iteration of its direct payments, the Basic Payment Scheme, even now some farmers still await correct full payments.
Richard Wordsworth, the NFU’s payments specialist, said: “We are alarmed at the (RPA’s) disappointing second target to pay only seemingly a further three percentage points more farmers by March 31, 2017. The NFU has questioned the ambition of the RPA and called on it to make bridging payments to those at the end of the payment queue.
“What members want is certainty around the timing of payment, but no one at this time can say for certain when they will get paid. One in ten will not see the payment until 2017 and seemingly seven per cent not a payment until April at the earliest.
“As a result of this continuing uncertainty the NFU is also lobbying the RPA to ensure that communications for those not paid in December are more realistic and explain what is holding up payments, so to avoid false dawns and failed promises and that such messages are issued in good time to allow farmers to plan ahead.”
Speaking in the House of Commons recently, Farming Minister George Eustice said government agency the RPA was in a better position to deliver timely payments in 2016/17.
Mr Eustice, said: “We had tremendous challenges in year one. This was an incredibly complex common agricultural policy with all sorts of additional auditing and recording requirements, and which carried with it complexity and caused problems for payment agencies right across the European Union.
“Now we have gone through last year’s difficult task of getting all the data on to the computer system, and now that we have 80 per cent of claimants applying online, we believe we are in a good position for the coming year because all the difficult work was done last year.
“This year we are in a better position. We have committed to pay at least 90 per cent of claims by the end of December.”
As was the eventual decision by the RPA last year, The Yorkshire Post understands that bridging payments could be an option again in 2017.