Farmers in the Yorkshire Dales, along with their counterparts across rural England are, at this very moment, waiting for the postman to deliver a very special cheque - the problem is that this particular cheque comes from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), and the wait seems to be getting ever-longer according to farmers leaders.
The Single Payment Scheme is a new subsidy paid to farmers under the European Common Agricultural Policy, and a Government announcement earlier this year promised that farmers would be notified of their entitlement by the 14th of February; that date was missed and there are now fears that payments will not be received by the end of March as promised.
Farmers still waiting for support payments
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) have written an open letter to the RPA raising serious concerns about the performance of the agency at what they call "this critical time for the Single Payment Scheme".
"The letter expresses the frustration and anger of our respective members faced with outstanding errors, the obscurity of the processes at the RPA and the poor quality of information supplied, all of which are causing unnecessary hardship and worry," said a CLA spokesperson.
The letter expresses further concern that SPS was meant to simplify the farming support system yet is actually leaving applicants confused and unsure of their entitlements.
CLA National President, David Fursdon, said: "Farmers and land managers have to respect deadlines or suffer penalties; if only the same rule applied to the RPA.
"The industry is keen to move forward and work in partnership with the Government, but it's a question of trust and confidence. The process needs to be transparent as to what exactly is happening to allow our members to plan their businesses."
The full text of the letter is available below; it is signed by David Fursdon, and NFU President Peter Kendall.
Single Payment Scheme delivery
This is a joint and open letter from the Presidents of the CLA and NFU.
We are writing to express in the clearest possible terms the frustration and anger of our respective members concerning the performance of the RPA at this critical time for the SPS. The great volume of errors outstanding, the obscurity of the processes at the RPA and the poor quality of information supplied to your customers and stakeholders are causing unnecessary hardship and worry.
In a DEFRA statement of 31/1 it was announced that the RPA would establish entitlements on 14/2 and all farmers would be notified within two weeks. It was also promised that the bulk of payments would be made by the end of March. The first promise was not fulfilled, and the statistics given by the RPA to the press and to stakeholders last week conflicted. As this promise was not met we are writing to insist that more satisfactory processing statistics are released to stakeholders on a daily basis starting immediately. Without this we cannot have confidence that there is a reasonable chance to meet the payment target this month.
We have appreciated the opportunity to meet with RPA officials at the regular stakeholder meetings. This has been helpful both for us to explain the issues as we see them, and for the officials to discuss with us the state of play. What has not been welcome is the belief expressed by one of your senior officials at the last two stakeholders' meetings that the only real deadline is the 30th of June.
In reality other important deadlines are approaching rapidly - the 2 April deadline for notifying the RPA of transfers of entitlements, and the 15 May deadline for applying for the 2006 scheme year, are only 3 and 10 weeks away respectively. The information currently being provided to stakeholders does not allay our growing conviction that far too many farmers will be seriously disadvantaged by being unable to meet required deadlines, and are needlessly suffering serious cash flow problems. For example, we are told that 61% of applications have passed level 2 validation, yet only 40% of entitlements issued are fully validated. Of the fully validated entitlements issued, we are aware of a number that the recipient knows to be wrong as mapping problems, for example, remain outstanding.
We are prepared to accept that we may not fully understand how the process is working, but certainly the information currently being provided to us is wholly insufficient to assuage our fears that a great number of farmers will be disadvantaged by the slowness of the process, and will suffer real and substantial cash flow problems as a result. Both of our organisations are being placed in an untenable position by the lack of clarity and timeliness on your part.
To help us to help our members - your customers - we urge you to instruct the RPA release daily by email to stakeholders' up to date statistics covering the following processes:
- Daily and cumulative issuance of entitlement statements, showing the number that are fully validated and the number that are not fully validated
- Daily and cumulative number of new full validations
- Daily and cumulative number and value of payments made.
We are sure that all of these simple statistics will be available, as they will be needed by the RPA management team to ensure they are on target. With them, we would then be able to enjoy the same sense of assurance that you have that the SPS will be fully and properly implemented, without further disadvantage to anyone.
Further, could you give open answers to the following specific questions:
Validation - communication to claimants
Will you be sending out a validated statement to claimants as and when the final processes are complete?
Are claimants going to receive all the authorisations applied for based on 2003 cropping records and any additional authorisations applied for under the national reserve?
When will you publish information and let claimants know whether they have an additional allocation based on a proportion of their additional 2004/2005 cropping?
Can they expect a further letter confirming the position?
When is the earliest this group can expect to receive payment?
It is inconceivable that a particular category of applicants is being kept in the dark like this. Of all categories of claimant, fvp growers need urgently to know what they have. And you have been made aware of this all along.
Some of our members are caught up in a nightmare scenario where every attempt to finalise maps produces a further error.
When will these members be paid? We do not expect to hear that they will be paid when their maps are finalised - in many cases, the process has already been going on for over a year, with no end in sight. Surely, the absence of one field from a digital map cannot mean they are unable to receive any payment at all.
We are always told that this is about partnership. We are told that we are stakeholders in the process. Could you therefore treat us as such and be open and transparent as to what exactly is happening, to allow our members to plan their businesses.
As this is a matter of the utmost urgency, we urge you to act immediately on the suggestions made.
Peter Kendall, President, NFU
David Fursdon, President, CLA