The much-criticised Rural Payments Agency set up by New Labour and once a byword for bureaucratic inefficiency yesterday (Dec 1) began paying out farm subsidies worth almost £1 billion to 80,000 farmers under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).
The single payment scheme was set up in an attempt to reform the notorious EU Common Agricultural Policy and although the funds are paid out by the RPA, the money comes from EU funds. In the past, the UK was forced to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds in fines to the EU for late payment.
Cause for the improved performance was the creation of an RPA Oversight Board, set up by the new government and chaired by Agriculture Minister Jim Paice, who said yesterday:
“Farmers may be assured that outstanding payments will be made as individual claims are verified. But that will not mean cutting corners: I am determined to bring a renewed focus on accuracy to the administration of the scheme so that legacy issues are addressed once and for all and the Agency is then able to deliver a better quality of service to farmers in the medium term.
“Equally, we need to ensure taxpayers interests are safeguarded by ensuring our actions represent good value for money and further discussions will take place with the National Audit Office to that end.”