Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Farm Fiasco

Still waiting for Defra

We've blogged the fiasco at Defra's Rural Payments Agency before (eg see here), but today's National Audit Office report reveals the problems are even worse than we thought.

Briefly, the RPA has cocked up bigtime on dishing out £1.5bn of subsidies to 116,000 English farmers. As a result, many farmers have still not been paid for last year, around one-third of completed payments are wrong, and we taxpayers now face an EU fine.

Clearly there were the usual specific instances of incompetence, but the NAO highlights some more general themes:
  • Goldplating Brussels- because we're in the EU we have to implement the EU's new Single Payment support scheme; only instead of following the simple approach used elsewhere, Defra decide to implement the most fiendishly complex variant known as the "dynamic hybrid" model... with all-too predictable results
  • Half-baked planning- eg "The Agency did not adequately pilot land registration and underestimated the amount of work involved in mapping the land. Instead of the expected 1.7 million parcels of land, it had to deal with 2.1 million, and instead of 200 maps a week it received 1,200. By September 2005 there was a backlog of 31,000 forms and 59 per cent of farmers reported difficulties in finalising maps."
  • Unresolved priorities- Under Gordo's mad Gershon cuts, RPA was trying to reduce staff by nearly one-half at the same time as implementing this gigantic new system
  • Rubbish IT- "The timetable ... became tighter following changes to the original specification of the IT system to incorporate changes to EU Regulations, legal clarification of the Regulations, Ministerial decisions and operational changes such as the design of the application form... Each element of the IT system was tested, but the system was never tested as a whole before the scheme was introduced, and problems arose once it went live."
  • Rubbish management- the top man has now been sacked... or rather, he's been suspended on full pay while the wimps above him wibble about what to do next
  • Rubbish staffing- clearly nobody in their right mind would work there permanently, so the RPA has to rely on temporary and agency staff, who haven't the faintest idea how to do anything

So what's the damage for us taxpayers?

It goes without saying that we shouldn't be subsidising farmers at all, but setting that on one side, as at March, the implementation costs for this shambles were put at £122m- nearly double the original estimate, but now almost certainly even higher. The late payment fine from the EU is so-far undecided but officially estimated by Defra at £131m - so let's say £250m. And on top of that, the shortchanged farmers have had to borrow to tide them over, which the NAO estimates at up to £22.5m.

Meanwhile that appalling airmiles woman who presided over this fiasco is now supposedly representing us on the world stage.

I'd like it to be known she doesn't represent me.

PS In case anyone has forgotten, the CAP costs British taxpayers directly about £4bn pa. But because the CAP also keeps our food prices above world market levels, the overall cost to consumers and taxpayers is around £10bn pa- or £400 pa for every household in the land (see previous blog here).

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