FARMERS' leaders have put Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett on notice that they will demand her resignation if the process of making Single Payments to farmers in England is not completed by the EU deadline, set for the end of June.
The decision, taken by the Council of the National Farmers' Union' (NFU), follows an impassioned debate during which one delegate after another offered a vivid account of the anxiety and hardship being caused by the chaos and confusion into which the process of making payments has descended.
Farm payment "mess" could herald end for
The meeting was told of overdrafts having to be extended, bills unpaid, of a cash-flow crisis, and of rural helplines such as the Farm Crisis Network being overwhelmed by calls from increasingly desperate farmers.
Earlier the Council had been told by Mark Addison, Acting Chief Executive of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) which is responsible for delivering payments to 122,000 claimants in England, that despite efforts made to accelerate the payment process he could not offer any firm assurances as to when farmers could expect to receive their money.
Farmers were initially promised that 96 per cent of the £1.6 billion owed in payments would be received by the end of March; subsequently that the bulk of it would be paid by then. However, as of Monday (April 10th) only 36 per cent of claimants had received their entitlement.
Mr Addison apologised to the meeting for the failure to keep commitments and to meet deadlines and said that he understood the great difficulties that the delays and confusion were creating for farming businesses and families.
Speaking after the meeting, NFU President Peter Kendall said: "Today's debate was a reflection of the anger and frustration - verging in some cases on desperation - that farmers across the country have been expressing at the complete fiasco, from conception to delivery, that the single payment scheme in England has become.
"Council felt that it was Margaret Beckett's decision to opt for the hugely complex model of single payment that applies in England and it was Mrs Beckett that accepted the assurances of her officials at the RPA that they would be made on time.
"So it is she who has the responsibility for sorting out this appalling mess."
The NFU has warned that at the current rate of progress, payments will not be completed before November this year.