Farmers still being harmed by late subsidy payments costing taxpayers £180m

Abigail Morrell.  Picture Tony Johnson
Abigail Morrell. Picture Tony Johnson
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FARMERS struggling to cope with delayed payments are victims of an extraordinary civil service blunder that will cost the tax-payer £180m a year, MPs have said today.

The mismanagement of the rural payments scheme has left farmers relying on credit cards to keep their animals alive and has been dubbed a ‘Whitehall fiasco’ by the chair of a Commons committee.

‘Childish’ civil servants created such a ‘dysfunctional and inappropriate’ culture within the Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme that trust broke down and was ‘deeply damaging’ to farmers, the report released by the Public Accounts Committee found. Food labelling has also come under fire from MPs as a lengthy investigation by another Commons committee found that current guidelines have the potential to mislead consumers.

In line with The Yorkshire Post’s Clearly British Campaign, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee is demanding Defra ask the EU for support in establishing clear rules that stop items such as butter labelled as ‘British’ when the raw product is from overseas.

On farm payments Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: “The Programme was set up to deliver support to UK farmers. Instead, it delivered an appalling Whitehall fiasco. It was frankly embarrassing to learn of senior and highly paid civil servants arguing to the detriment of hard-pressed farmers.”

The Rural Payments Agency paid just 38 per cent of Yorkshire’s farmers the money they were owed from the EU in early December compared to 90 per cent of those the year before, and for farmers and landowners who own common land, they might not receive their payment until later this month.

Delaying payments mean the Delivery Programme’s costs rose by 40 per cent from £155m to £215m and fines from the European Commission totalled £642m between 2005 and 2014.

The Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme to distribute EU funds to farmers was changed in 2012 with quango the RPA and the Government Digital Service working together to create an IT based method of delivering the money.

However Liam Maxwell, the Government’s Chief Technology Officer who earns £140,000 and Mark Grimshaw, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, who takes home a £160,000 salary, were heavily criticised in the report for not giving a reason for their territorialism and unacceptable behaviour when the committee heard evidence earlier this year.

“The enduring mental image is of managers, having seemingly lost sight of the purpose of the project, devoting their energies to a childish turf war instead,” said Ms Hillier.

In the report’s recommendations to government, the Committee says Defra should review its approach to tackling serious failures of management and put in place measures to stop this ever happening again. On farm pricing, MPs have told Defra they want to see urgent changes on guidelines for labelling.

Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Commitee, Neil Parish said: “Defra must strengthen its guidelines around country of origin labelling and continue to press for EU support in establishing clearer and better labelling requirements.”