Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 160 - 169)



  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.

Mr Todd

  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 end payment.

  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 people.
  (Mr McNeill) Yes, and some are in areas of very high employment—Cambridge, 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 this restructuring.

  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 point.


  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.

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