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Students drafted in to clean up RPA mess

[Tuesday 04 April 2006]

Students from a North Yorkshire town have been drafted in by the Government's Rural Payments Agency as the much maligned Quango continues its effort to get subsidy payments worth £1 billion to farmers across the country.

Delays in the processing of entitlement claims mean that payments under the new SPS subsidy scheme are now months behind schedule.

Students drafted in to clean up RPA mess
Students drafted in to clean up RPA mess

Anger has being mounting recently within the farming community, as more delays and problems are reported on what seems to be an almost daily basis.

Now, the RPA office in Northallerton is paying sixth formers from the town to work a 'twilight shift' between 6pm and 9pm to process claims for them.

Defra has confirmed that a number of RPA regional offices have been using staff supplied by employment agencies to work 'twilight shifts' for several months in an attempt to clear the backlog.

A spokesman said: "The priority for the RPA as a whole has been to get these payments to farmers as soon as possible," adding that by using agency staff to carry out routine tasks, the IT system is operational and assessing claims for up to 15 hours every day.

Conservative MP, Anne McIntosh is one of the Government's harshest critics over the subsidy debacle; she doubts that regional offices employing sixth formers could do much to clear the backlog:

"The problem seems to be that the backlog is in Reading. That's where the main computer is and a lot of the map problems that we had seem to be based there.

"It is a national computer. One of the reasons that farmers have not been paid sooner is that they are querying the digital mapping and forms have gone missing."

"There are many things which sixth formers are qualified to do but I would not have thought that complicated processing of rural farm payments is top of the list."

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