UK's Rural Payments Agency is 'failing on multiple levels' – report
Committee questions its ability to cope with Brexit (again)
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is "failing on multiple levels" with widespread concerns over errors from recent digital mapping updates and inaccurate payments.
A report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee found that the RPA "is failing in its core duties", which "raises concerns about its capability to deliver on new responsibilities demands of Brexit".
Farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated at having to correct mapping errors which are not their fault, said the report. "We recommend that the RPA develop a system enabling farmers to make direct changes to the online mapping register."
In February 2017, the Public Accounts Committee warned that problems over the online application portal had led to a significant number of errors, adding that the agency should provide digital maps with data no older than three years.
As of March 2018, over 3,000 farmers had not been paid their Common Agricultural Policy payments.
The agency has a long history of failure to deliver payments due to IT cockups. In 2015/16, just 51 per cent of payments were processed by 4 January 2016.
A number of factors were attributed to this disappointing performance, including widespread issues with its IT system and problems with land and payment calculations, said the report. RPA improved in the 2016/17 window, making 91 per cent of payments by the end of December 2016.
"The RPA's history of failing to deliver workable payment systems does not fill us with confidence that it has either the capacity or expertise to deliver a seamless Brexit transition," said the report.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – which the RPA belongs to – has also repeatedly come under fire from MPs warning it will not be able to cope with Brexit. The department has 20 Brexit-related programmes that contain an IT element, while 80 per cent of its work is framed by the bloc's policy.
Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA Committee, said: "The farming industry relies on EU support for financial stability, and on the RPA to distribute subsidies on time. It is crucial that our farmers can rely on consistent and accurate payments.
"The RPA is failing on multiple levels, which is causing significant harm to farmers across the country. It is simply not good enough that over 3,000 farmers had not been paid by March 2018. We have real concerns that the RPA is incapable of providing timely support payments in the pre and post-Brexit world." ®