Defra secretary Elizabeth Truss responds to farmers’ questions on payment delays

Environment secretary and South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss. Picture: Ian Burt

Environment secretary and South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Defra secretary Elizabeth Truss has told farming leaders that delays to direct subsidy payments in 2015 resulted from 'one-off' issues – and pledged improved performance in 2016.

The South West Norfolk MP responded to a letter sent jointly by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which urged her to take a 'public and proactive role' in leading the response to criticisms of the 2015 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

Both organisations reported concerns from their members about the cash flow implications of late 2015 payments – and the consequences for the 2016 scheme.

They asked for assurances on when the 2015 payments round would be completed, when those due a 50pc bridging payment could expect to be paid in full, whether the RPA had sufficient staff resource to resolve post-payment adjustments before the end of August, and whether such cases would receive interest on outstanding payments.

The minister's response, dated April 29, says no interest payments are planned. Her letter says: 'As of April 26, the RPA (Rural Payments Agency) has made around 90pc of BPS payments, and bridging payments will be out by the end of this week.

'I know Mark (RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw) and his directors were disappointed that we have not made progress on clearing the more complex claims as they anticipated and I share that disappointment. But in this first year of the new scheme, with its additional scheme requirements and new administrative checks, it has been harder to complete processing than expected.

'I am acutely aware of the financial difficulties faced by the farming and wider rural community and I understand that bridging payments will bring only temporary relief while the RPA continues to complete processing of remaining claims.

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'I am also aware of concerns that have been raised on payment differences. The RPA has advised farmers, when a difference has been identified, to write to the agency along with any associated evidence. The agency will investigate and make appropriate adjustments where necessary.

'The RPA has all the resources it needs to complete claims for 2015 and make any associated post-payment reconciliations. At the moment there is no provision for the payment of interest on outstanding amounts.

'There have been a number of issues that have arisen that will be one-offs for 2015 and I anticipate performance for 2016 to be improved.'

Meanwhile Defra says it has no plans to extend the deadline for 2016 BPS applications beyond May 16.

A spokesman said: 'English farmers are on track to get their 2016 applications in on time and there are no plans to change the deadline, as this could lead to unnecessary delays in payments being made. We urge everyone to complete their application as soon as possible.'

For more features, opinions and analysis on East Anglian farming, see the 32-page Spring Agricultural Review in today's EDP.