AN internal investigation into allegations of staff misbehaviour at the Newcastle office of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has concluded with a report being delivered to the Agency's Directors and a number of staff being dismissed.
Agency disclipines staff
Allegations surfaced in June that whilst thousands of English farmers - including many across the Yorkshire Dales - faced bankruptcy due to late Single Payment cheques staff at the Newcastle office were indulging in sex and drugs.
Though the final report finds no substantial evidence of staff having sex in the toilets or of drug taking, bosses were concerned at what they termed "incidents of misbehaviour" - including the theft of a laptop.
As a result of disciplinary action involving a mixture of civil servants and agency staff over incidents covered by the inquiry, four members of staff have been dismissed and five have been disciplined with a combination of verbal and written warnings.
In addition bosses say that management procedures and vigilance have been tightened and that there has been liaison with employment agencies and letters and briefings issued to all staff as a reminder of the code of conduct relating to appropriate behaviour at work.
The inquiry examined the facts compared with initial reports resulting from leaks and concluded there was no evidence of naked leaping from filing cabinets, sex in the toilets, drug taking at work or break-dance competitions.
RPA Chief Executive Tony Cooper said: "I have received and studied the report. I am satisfied that the correct actions have been taken to deal with the misbehaviour of the small number of individuals involved.
"While the investigation made clear many of the initial reports were overblown, there have been incidents of misbehaviour that are simply unacceptable in this organisation. We have taken this matter very seriously and the action taken as a result of the investigation draws a firm line under all this.
I am satisfied that the correct actions have been taken to deal with the misbehaviour of the small number of individuals
Tony Cooper - RPA Chief Executive
"Staff at Newcastle and RPA offices across the country are hard-working and dedicated to performing a very important job for the farming industry. We are focusing all our efforts on paying subsidies to farmers and other crucial work across a range of programmes."
News of the disciplinary action was welcomed by the Country Land and Business Association. Spokesperson Dorothy Fairburn commented:
"The CLA is glad that the RPA have taken effective action to deal with the problem of inappropriate behaviour at work. This damaged the reputation of many hard working individuals within the RPA.
"The CLA urges the RPA now to show the same leadership in dealing with the outstanding Single Payment claims from last year and improving the system for the 2006 claims."
At the time the allegations surfaced, Conservative Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh said: "The RPA officials showed an utter lack of respect for their clients as they "partied away" and allegedly indulged in name-calling of farmers."