Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  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 barn?
  (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 about it?
  (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 not pursued.

  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, Mr Rendel.

  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 that happen?
  (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 that.[7]

  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 Richard Bacon.

Mr Bacon

  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 the question.
  (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 same.
  (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

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