Examination of Witnesses (Questions
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
BENDER CB, MR
100. Do the inspectors know it is difficult
to identify between these two particular crops?
(Mr MacKinnon) They do indeed, yes.
101. Yet you allow them to go and have a look
and say what they think it is without taking any laboratory sample
and testing it properly?
(Mr MacKinnon) If there had been any doubt in that
inspector's mind he would have taken further measures to establish
what crop he was seeing.
102. What you are saying is that he must have
been absolutely certain that he knew the difference between the
two and this was flax?
(Mr MacKinnon) Indeed so, yes.
103. He went back and in 1995 he found that
the crop had been burnt down in a fire. Did anyone ask the fire
services at the time whether they found any evidence of what crop
had been in there?
(Mr MacKinnon) I have no way of knowing, I am afraid.
104. Or, indeed, if any crop had been there.
Was there any evidence that he had not just burnt down an empty
(Mr MacKinnon) It is very likely that the investigators
who were probably from the Intervention Board who were co-ordinating
this, and who had contact with the police service, the fire service
and the Ministry's investigators would have raised such questions
but I am afraid I do not know the answer to it.
105. My understanding, and I do not know a lot
about the fire service, is that quite often it is possible to
get a lot of evidence about the volume of what was inside, the
nature of what was inside, there may even be evidence from bits
which have blown away and did not catch fire themselves as to
what the crop was. Nobody investigated that and asked any questions
(Mr MacKinnon) No. I think at that point the investigation
had taken a view that a crop was grown and that crop had gone
into the barn. When added to the inspector's report saying that
he had seen flax growing, that was sufficient and that point was
106. In 1996 he had another fire and the inspector
did not visit, is that right, after the 1996 fire? Although he
made a claim for something which was not there nobody bothered
to check up, they just accepted it?
(Mr MacKinnon) No. There are a percentage of checks
made each year on site for flax, it is ten per cent of all holdings
which are growing flax are examined.
107. You do not make a special attempt to inspect
crops which have been burned in a fire?
(Mr MacKinnon) The selection process takes account
of a risk assessment but I am not sure at that stage that we would
have known that there was a fire or a recurrence of fires.
108. Can I ask you what percentage of farmers
lose one barn a year to fire and what percentage of farmers lose
two barns in two years to fire?
(Mr MacKinnon) I have no idea.
109. Do you have those figures?
(Mr MacKinnon) I do not have them.
110. Can you tell us?
(Mr Bender) I doubt we have that information available,
111. Pity, because it does seem to me that would
have been a fairly obvious pointer that something had gone wrong.
Perhaps you do not have the information and there is nothing you
can do about it. Can I ask, finally, about the construction company.
We are told that the construction company, which was being paid
a lot of money to rebuild the barn which had already been rebuilt,
was actually connected to the person who was making the claim
for the money. What checks do you make about construction companies
chosen to build a new barn and, in particular, when you are making
a grant for the building of a new agricultural property do you
insist that the process of the construction job will have been
properly tendered to a number of people so that you see the results
of the tenders and you can check them? This always happens in
local government even for quite small things like a small adaption
of a person's home made suitable for a disabled person. For that
sum of money it happens but we are talking about tens of thousands
of pounds so I would have thought certainly it should occur. Does
(Mr Bender) Claims and supporting documents are checked
against the package. Invoices or an accountant's report is needed
and projects are subject to in-depth monitoring. Whether there
is a specific sort of check that was sought I would actually doubt.
112. So you do not check that the project was
tendered. Anybody can say they are going to build it, they have
got a bid in of whatever the size and you do not check at all
that they may be doing it themselves or
(Mr Bender) I am not in a position to respond to that
definitively, we will cover that in the supplementary information.
113. That would be very useful to know. If it
is not done then I would have thought you certainly ought to follow
normal local government practice which is to insist on any grant
being given for construction purposes being properly tendered.
(Mr Bender) I was just seeing whether the cavalry
could answer the question. We will provide the information on
114. You certainly ought to be insisting on
anything which is grant aided being properly tended for construction.
(Mr Bender) I would like to think about it in the
light of the data.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Rendel. Mr
115. Mr Bender, how much does it cost to administer
the Arable Area Payments Scheme?
(Mr Bender) The total cost of administering the CAP
116. No, the Arable Area Payments Scheme was
(Mr Bender) £6.4 million in 2000. That is against
a reimbursement from the EU of just under one million.
117. I am looking at the Committee of the Public
Accounts Report for 1998-99 published July 1999 and it refers
in paragraph eight on page `vii' to "In 1997-98 £1.1
billion was paid to farmers in England under the scheme,"
that is the Arable Area Payments Scheme, and the cost of administration
was £12 million. Are you saying that you have managed to
halve the cost of administering the scheme in the last four years?
(Mr Bender) The cost of administration has gone down.
118. At the time of this report the department
was being criticised because the cost of administration was going
up despite the fact that the number of claims remained about the
(Mr Bender) I am just seeing whether any of my colleagues
can give a run of figures.
119. It would be helpful if you could write
to us afterwards with a note on the cost of administering each
scheme that DEFRA has under its control over the last ten years.
(Mr Bender) We will do that.
7 Ev 27, Appendix 1. Back