The Council of the National Farmers’ Union today put Defra
Secretary of State, 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 of
Friday 30 June.
The NFU’s decision follows an impassioned debate during which one council 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 the payments has descended.
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 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 payments.
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 farming families.
He outlined the steps that had already been taken to improve and speed up the processing of claims and said that a system that would allow for part payments was being worked up.
In response the NFU Council agreed a number of proposals to be put to the RPA and to the Government on ways to help the industry through the crisis. They included:
- Introducing part payments as soon as possible.
- Suspending cross-compliance inspections until the payment process is complete.
- Waiving the penalties for late 2006 claims.
- Making payments against unvalidated claims and conducting the necessary
- Prioritising payments for working farmers.
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.”
Farmers were initially promised that 96% of the £1.6 billion owed in single payments would be paid by the end of March; subsequently that the bulk of it would be paid by then.
As of Monday April 10 only £341 million, or 22% of the total figure, had been paid to 43,700 claimants, 36% of the total number.
The NFU has warned that at the current rate of progress payments will not be completed before November 2006.
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