Select Committee on Public Accounts Third Report

3  Improving payment controls

20. The Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) is an EU control on livestock and arable subsidies. It requires the unique identification and registration of land, to prevent or detect duplicate claims and payments. There are some 750,000 declared parcels of land in Northern Ireland. When IACS was introduced in 1992, Member States were required to validate farmers' land declarations. The Department decided to validate IACS using its own manual land identification system—the 'Field Management System' (FMS). The C&AG's report highlighted a range of concerns as to the accuracy of FMS, including the lack of documentation on the verification checks performed, acceptance of land details submitted by farmers without verification and use of out-of-date maps to validate holdings.[20]

Detecting irregularities

21. These weaknesses have left the FMS and IACS systems vulnerable to fraud. In 2001, the Northern Ireland Assembly's Public Accounts Committee reported on an attempted fraud involving two claims on IACS forms for land which was not actually available for forage, including large areas of recreational land and a car park. In a bid to prevent fraud, the Department has an IACS inspection programme, whereby some 5% of declarations are checked each year. Because the check includes all new applications, less than 5% of the existing land holdings on the system are checked each year. By 2002, some 50% of the total declarations had yet to be inspected and verified.[21]

22. The Department's view is that it is highly unlikely that there are major fraud problems remaining in the rest of the database. It said that it had no evidence of widespread problems from its ongoing programme of inspections and there was no reason to expect that the remaining half will throw up any problems. We are not persuaded. Bogus land declarations have already been discovered in the database and, with some 375,000 records still to be validated, the potential for other irregularities does exist. Also, with less than 5% of existing holdings being checked each year, validation of the remainder of the database will take more than 10 years. In our view, the Department needs to consider how the validation exercise can be speeded up.[22]

Introducing digital mapping

23. FMS maps are hand-drawn, a labour intensive process. With current developments in digital mapping and with a view to future EU requirements, the Department has decided to introduce an automated 'Geographical Information System' to record and validate land holdings. The new system is to be in place in 2005. We welcome the improvements that this will bring to the Department's administration of the sheep annual premium scheme. We expect the Department to ensure, however, that the range of concerns, identified by the C&AG within FMS, will not be repeated when the new system is implemented.[23]

20   C&AG's Report, paras 3.7-3.11, 3.14 Back

21   C&AG's Report, paras 3.15-3.17; 4th Report from the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee of Public Accounts, National Agriculture Support: Fraud (NIA4/00/R, Session 2000-01) Back

22   Q 74; C&AG's Report, para 3.18 Back

23   Q 81; C&AG's Report, paras 3.22-3.28 Back

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