Examination of witness (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY
160. Is this part of MAFF's agency relationship?
Given that CAPPA will develop a great deal of knowledge and expertise
on the way in which the CAP payment system works, to what extent
will that be fed in to policy makers at MAFF?
(Mr McNeill) It is in my job description actually
that I have a role as Chief Exec of CAPPA to advise Ministers
on the implications of policy changes. In other words, as I mentioned
earlier, if they go to Brussels, and think of making significant
changes, that is issues arising in terms of lead times or system
changes, it has issues arising in terms of staffing levels and
timescales for processing claims, and, as happens now with the
Intervention Board and the RSC, we will be feeding back saying
"that sounds good but in practice it is just not going to
work, and you need to reconsider quickly what you are doing".
It is not for us to interfere in decisions on wider policy issues,
it is for Ministers and others to decide what their policy is
in the future of CAPPA.
161. You are confident then that the structure
that is being put in place would ensure that your knowledge and
expertise would not be bypassed?
(Mr McNeill) Yes. That is very clear. Both in the
job description and in the framework document I think the rules
are defined. We are meeting with Kate Timms to discuss that relationship
in more detail because she takes the lead in terms of policy work
as well. So we will make sure we have an input. In the Intervention
Board now and, indeed, in RSC we have people who go to Brussels
to discuss the actual implementation aspect of the various schemes
and that role will continue as well and that will provide a feed
in to policy makers who have difficulties at the moment.
162. I take it "populate the form"
means fill a form in?
(Mr McNeill) I am sorry, it is jargon, I know, I apologise.
163. I touched earlier on some of the risk element
of this. Let me conclude by the other risk I can see which is
the morale of the RSC employees at the moment and into the future
as they see the looming prospect of a redundancy payment. You
have not read many of the documents we have seen so you may not
have seen the staff survey of RSC members from the past which
did not indicate a particularly high level of morale before this
exercise. It is fair to assume that it will have declined since.
How are you going to address that?
(Mr McNeill) The business continuity payments will
of course be made to those who are eligible. Our advice is they
will be paid at the end of March in the April pay packet. That
has of course served to encourage people to stay with the Agency
during this period of change and of course there is a £5,000
164. Is that £5,000 each year?
(Mr McNeill) It is £1,000 each year and £5,000
at the end of the process in three or four years' time; a £5,000
lump sum at the end.
165. So that should secure some retention.
(Mr McNeill) Yes, it may secure some retention.
166. Although one needs to be aware some of
these standards are in areas of very, very low employment and
therefore opportunities are not readily available for competent
(Mr McNeill) Yes, and some are in areas of very high
employmentCambridge, for example, where we have had difficulty
recruiting staff, I understand, in the past. So it is a mixed
bag. In those areas of high employment, people may decide to stay
with us, to take their continuity payments, and we are making
contingency plans in the event that does not work, such as moving
work to other areas such as Newcastle where there is still a significant
level of unemployment and we can recruit very good staff for the
work. In areas of high unemployment, we are looking now at what
placement packages and training we can put in place. We will be
putting in a service to find other jobs within Government and
government offices in the area. We have, for example, a decision
taken to place the State Veterinary Service's Scrapie Research
Unit, at Worcester, which would soak up a number of staff which
would arise from the closure of that office, and that is influencing
our thinking now in terms of business continuity. If the SVS move
in, we may need to look at how we manage the down-sizing and closure
of Worcester at an earlier stage, because that means there would
not be casualties, they could move onto other SVS work. It is
that type of dynamic environment we are monitoring carefully with
167. I have given you quite a lot of free advice
this morning, can I give you another bit? Running services which
are time-limited and doomed is a complex specialist professional
task which requires special skills from the managers responsible
which may not exist in the existing management of RSCs, and I
would certainly urge on you a rapid review of the competency of
existing RSC managers to see if they can cope with the very different
dynamics of an organisation which may disappear and where morale
will be a constant problem and where service performance is almost
certainly going to be threatened by that. I would suggest you
carefully scrutinise whether you have the people in place to do
that job, because it is not a common one and it is not at all
the same as running a standard service which everyone knew was
going to be there for another five, ten years.
(Mr McNeill) Thank you for that. I understand the
168. Mr McNeill, all political careers are time-limited
by definition and Enoch Powell said they all end in failure. We
are time-limited and doomed as well but you have been with us
for two hours. Mr Bender remarked to me a little while ago that
the only thing which made him wake up in a sweat at night was
CAPPA and the possibility of CAPPA going wrong. I suspect both
your career and his career are on the line on this one.
(Mr McNeill) Yes.
169. I do hope that if you do see hairline fractures
you will let that be known very rapidly and say, "I am supposed
to be in charge of this, we need to come back and debate this",
because there has been a history of a lot of things progressively
going wrong, sticking plaster being applied and at the end of
the day the whole thing has fallen apart. I hope you do not think
we have given you too difficult a session, I hope you think it
has been fair, but, as you can imagine, an awful lot does rest
on this and therefore we are very concerned because we are constantly
dealing with farmers whose whole livelihoods depend upon the systems
delivering. Thank you very much for coming in front of us. I am
sure at some future date when you have your people around you
and the actual architecture in place, we may want to have another
look to see how things are turning out as you handle this very
important transition. Thank you very much for coming today.
(Mr McNeill) Thank you, Chairman.