Thursday, June 15, 2006

What is going on at the Rural Payments Agency ?

Massive problems have been caused to many farmers in the rural areas of Cumbria, and much of the rest of the country, by delays in handing out the money to which they are entitled under the "Single Farm Payment" system. This replaces previous European Union farm support arrangements, and is managed by national governments rather than the European Commission. The over-complex system introduced by Margaret Beckett while she was farm minister has been a fiasco and even demonstrated that our own government is as capable of disastrous mismanagement as Brussels is.

This week the BBC and the News and Star have been repeating extraordinary allegations of misconduct by staff at the Rural Payments Agency, which is responsible for paying the money.

There is as yet no proof that this has anything to do with the delays in paying the farmers their money, but if there is any truth in the allegations it sounds as though staff have found something more interesting to pass the time than their jobs.

The new minister, David Milliband, and his newly appointed head of the Rural Payments Agency, Tony Cooper, must get a grip on the situation at once. The RPA cannot be allowed to continue doing metaphorically to farmers what its staff have been accused of doing literally to each other.

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