Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. I will not proceed further in detail on that but it would be interesting to have some commentary on that. One of the arguments about the forms is the amount of time it is going to save both from the farmer's point of view and from your point of view. Is that speed of process going to respond to Mr Drew's question earlier about whether payment timings are going to be sped up? Are those real time savings for both parties that you are confident of?
  (Mr McNeill) My advice is that something along the lines of 40 per cent of current applications go through clean, without having to be revisited, discussed, etc., that is about the level, or keying in errors, errors on both sides, something along the lines of 40 per cent manage to make it through first time.

  141. Did that affect their payment time in these trials? Did they get their money quicker?
  (Mr McNeill) I am sorry, I do not know the answer to that question. That is the figure I have for day to day operations.

  142. I would be interested to know if there was any gain because people are going to say "Okay, if I have to invest in up-to-date IT equipment on the farm and get myself properly trained, I would like to think there is some gain for the pain".
  (Mr McNeill) Yes.

  143. Perhaps it might be useful when you have had a chance to reflect on my question if you could give us a response to that.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes.

  144. Have you quantified the money saving in terms of the claimant from using the electronic system at all?
  (Mr McNeill) Not in terms of time saved.

  145. How much do you estimate it will save CAPPA versus payment systems?
  (Mr McNeill) Again, I do not have those figures.

  146. I think I might respectfully suggest that in terms of all the discussions on the business model we ought to know. Some farmers might say "I am very familiar with paper, I do not want to change". I do not know how much of a potential saving there will be, because of the questions I asked earlier about the differential take up rates, but if somebody said "Well, it is going to be 70 per cent of farmers and there is X million going to be saved" this could have quite a dramatic effect on your overall savings. I wonder if you would care to reflect on that and give us some feel about whether in fact, for example, some of these savings have got to be brought in to your budgetary process because clearly there are unrealised savings and expenditure in the area of training which may yield rich dividends which at the moment we cannot identify.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes. Certainly we will write to you with information on that. I agree it would be a useful piece of work to look at.

Dr Turner

  147. A very quick one. In the trial process the application date electronically was earlier than paper. Now one would have thought, and expected, electronic would be quicker and easier to deal with.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes.

  148. I do not know what is happening next year. Would you see you might eventually have a situation where you would be later electronically than on paper?
  (Mr McNeill) I was under the impression that the time was defined within the rules that come with the scheme.

  149. The report we had said it was April rather than May for the electronic submission in the East Anglia trials.
  (Mr McNeill) Right.

  150. The other thing I wonder if—possibly you have not read this document—you would investigate, is that one of the things we have found among farmers is that if errors are found they would like to be reassured that simple mistakes can be corrected without it being assumed they are thieves. I thought it was an advantage in the trial that you could resubmit your data as many times as you want but with a submission fee. Now I see that there is a proposal to put a limit on that, on how many times data can be corrected. I would have thought that we need to reassure people that if ahead of being warned there is some fraud investigation they can correct errors, they should be able to do so and they will do so, I would have thought, easier electronically than on paper. Would you agree with that?
  (Mr McNeill) Yes, I understand the point. To answer your first question. I now have the information that the date was earlier because there was time needed to rework on paper if the pilot failed, if there were difficulties otherwise those farmers would have been disadvantaged, so the trial was run ahead of the actual normal timetable.

  151. Does your piece of paper tell you whether that will be the same this year or next year?
  (Mr McNeill) No, but it might in a moment if I pass it back.

Mr Borrow

  152. Just a number of final questions to do with the relationship between MAFF, the various agencies and how all this change is taking place.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes.

  153. Perhaps the crucial one is that out of breaking them up, stirring them up and separating you have got CAPPA and the Rural Development Service working perhaps in two parts.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes.

  154. I just wondered how the relationship would exist between those two organisations? What do you envisage for that? Also, in particular, the fact that the Rural Development Service will have certain schemes it will manage which will result in payments to farmers, how do you see that relationship working? Will CAPPA eventually take responsibility for those payments or how will that leap exist?
  (Mr McNeill) Yes. First of all, the relationship with RDS will, for the purpose of the scheme, be a formal relationship. I know Sarah Nason particularly well, I have worked with her for some years and I can assure you it is our intention to work very closely together, particularly, as you say, as we extract RDS from what is currently either Intervention Board or MAFF or RSC staffings. So we are not going to risk failure in business by just taking people out of important posts and sort of sucking and seeing and hoping it works, we are going to be managing that very carefully. There is a very constructive policy working relationship there. Certainly Brian Bender has made it clear that we will be managing this in a corporate manner. Whilst we are setting up these different organisations, we are all under the MAFF banner and will be working in a corporate manner under his guidance, as of course Chairman of the Restructuring Programme Board. In terms of the payments under the ERDP schemes, as a transitional arrangement the RDS will continue to work with RMD in York to facilitate these payments. We have arranged that and that is to the satisfaction of the co-ordinating body and the lawyers and the auditors but, in time, that work will fall into CAPPA's workload as the paying agency. So it is a transitional arrangement which, for administrative purposes, makes an awful lot of sense at this present time.

  155. What roles are the Chief Executive of the Intervention Board and the Regional Service Centres playing at the moment?
  (Mr McNeill) I am working very closely with George Trevelyan, who is Chief Exec of the Intervention Board and Mrs Jane Brown who heads up the Regional Service Group. We are having a constructive professional relationship. We know each other quite well.

Mr Jack

  156. Wonderful language.
  (Mr McNeill) I meant that seriously. We are working very well together to bring about CAPPA. It is a difficult situation, I think we would have to accept tripartite arrangements in setting up new organisations is not the most sensible way of doing things, you could argue, but it is practical and we are all very civilised and we are getting it sorted out. As of 1 April I will, of course, have single management responsibility for both.

Mr Borrow

  157. You mentioned earlier on about the BCMS data which when we were over in Dublin last week there was talk about using the information they have got for direct payments.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes.

  158. I was just wondering to what extent you will have access to that data and whether or not you could actually use it for direct payments?
  (Mr McNeill) No, the intention is we will access that database. In fact, we are working closely with David Rossington, who is now e-director for MAFF, who set up the BCMS scheme. He is involved in, obviously, our project, but we will be accessing that data.

  159. If at some time in the future it was felt that direct payments—
  (Mr McNeill)—that is right, and to populate the forms and to assist the farmers and save them having to fill in all the targets which are set, that is the intention.

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