The much reviled Rural Payments Agency, which has been severely criticised by Parliament and which is hated by thousands of farmers, is finally getting its act together, claims the environment department Defra.
Since Britain moved to the Single Farm Payment scheme to break away from the notorious EU Common Agricultural Policy, the RPA has been subject to a series of scandals about missed payments, stifling bureaucracy and even sex parties in is North East office.
It was often two and even three years late in payments to thousands of farmers, some of whom were driven to the point of bankruptcy, and was subject to one of the most damning reports for incompetence ever issued by an investigating Parliamentary committee.
These problems only occurred in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland handled the changeover without major problems and the first head of RPA was sacked (with a substantial pay-off). Insiders blamed the chaos on political interference from Westminster.
Yesterday, however, Defra Secretary Hilary Benn announced that he had approved the agency’s 2010/11 business plan and said that 85% of claimants would be paid this year before December. He added: “The RPA is aiming to focus further on proactive customer engagement and a new target has been introduced to promote the use of its e-channel services, so that farmers can submit their applications online.