A report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has criticised the implementation of the revised CAP subsidy payment system in England.
It says dysfunctional behaviour between Defra, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the Government Digital Service (GDS) led to delayed payments, project cost overruns and the likelihood of EU fines for non compliance running at £180m annually. This is despite the debacle over the introduction of the Single Payment Scheme in 2005 which led to delayed payments, severe project cost overruns and EU penalty fines of £642 million.
The Inquiry found that the Cabinet Office reviewed the CAP delivery programme in January 2013 ahead of the latest CAP reform changes. It made seven significant changes that increased the level of innovation and risk. The chief change was to insist Defra and the RPA work with the GDS to deliver a digital-only application system for the new BPS, despite this not being a European Commission requirement. But, “the parties’ differing objectives were never reconciled into a single set of priorities”, notes the report.
In March 2015 Defra was forced to replace the online application system with ‘paper-assisted digital’ applications following a number of IT failures, and many payments have been delayed from the December 1st 2015 payment window, at a time when the support payments are really needed on many farms. Only 38% was paid on December 1st, compared to 90% in previous years, once the former SPS system had been successfully established.
“GDS’s focus on developing a digital front-end to allow farmers to apply online was inappropriate for farmers, who have a lower average level of digital literacy than the general population, while there is poor broadband coverage in many rural areas,” states the report.
The delivery programme was originally forecast to cost £155m, but this has increased by 40% to £215m.
The cross party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee used the launch of its latest report into farmgate pricing to add to the RPA criticism:
"Many producers rely on CAP payments to turn a profit so it is unacceptable that our farmers are still facing lengthy delays to financial support,” notes EFRA chair Neil Parish MP. “The RPA introduced an IT system that wasn’t fit for purpose and subsequent errors made in the attempt to fix the problem only caused further delays and confusion for applicants. We welcome the efforts being made to solve this problem and reduce delays but it is crucial that the RPA works to at least match the target achieved by the previous scheme of 90% of payments made by the end of December each year."