Under pressure from farmers: Defra Secretary
ENGLAND'S three biggest farming organisations have taken the rare step of uniting to issue a joint statement condemning Government incompetence at the latest shambles to engulf the ill-fated Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
Tens of thousands of farmers across the Yorkshire Dales and beyond have been forced to the point of bankruptcy because of two years of delays in paying out newly agreed single farm payments under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy - but it was revealed yesterday that full payments may be delayed yet again next year.
Only English farmers are suffering - the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly paid their subsidies on time two years ago - and the frustration in England burst through with a rare joint statement from the National Farmers' Union, the Country Land and Business Association, and the Tenant Farmers' Association.
It said that English farmers were paying the price for "Government incompetence - again" - and went on to put more pressure on the new Defra Secretary David Miliband, who has promised to sort out the mess left by his predecessor, Margaret Beckett, when she was promoted to Foreign Secretary.
"This confirms our worst fears about the ability of the RPA to deliver 2006 single payments. We have strongly argued for a part payment and for a clear timetable, so to that extent, we are relieved David Miliband has listened to our case.
This is an unfair double hit on the rural community. First, the single payment is paid late...then Defra's budget is cut to the tune of £200m
statement from farmers leaders
"However this still leaves much of the industry in financial difficulties and we are very disappointed the payment is less and later than we wanted.
"This is an unfair double hit on the rural community. First, the single payment is paid late, affecting not only farmers but dependent businesses and the wider rural community. Then Defra's budget is cut to the tune of £200m, which impacts on vital issues like flood defence, land drainage, animal health and the environment.
"Since David Miliband has been at Defra we have welcomed his assurances that he will do everything to ensure fair terms of competition for our farmers.
"We recognise he is a victim of the system he inherited. However we need to be assured the lessons of the past have been learned. We are all acutely aware these problems could cause on-going delays in payments into 2008 and we have asked Defra to share a detailed action plan with us to ensure this is the last year we suffer from this kind of blatant disadvantage to our industry."