Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum submitted by the Tenant Farmers Association (RPA 05)


1  The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) welcomes the opportunity of responding to the EFRA Committee's terms of reference for its examination into aspects of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). The TFA exists to support and promote the interests of tenant farmers in England and Wales nearly all of whom will have some contact with the RPA, particularly in relation to the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). This paper focuses on the implementation of the SPS in England.

The Decision on How to Implement the SPS

2  The TFA wholeheartedly and passionately supported the implementation of the SPS through the historic basis. We saw this as the most transparent, logical and workable system of all the various forms on offer. It was also clear to us that DEFRA's own officials and those within the RPA, were supporting the historic route until the end of 2003 when DEFRA Ministers stated that their preferred route was the dynamic hybrid subsequently announced in February 2004.

3  DEFRA has been keen to point the finger of blame at the RPA for the major shortcomings in the processing of SPS applications. DEFRA Secretary of State Margaret Beckett declared in February of this year that she was "bloody livid" following the RPA's announcement that it would be unable to start making SPS payments until at least February 2006. Whilst the TFA is no apologist for the RPA, it is clear to us that the RPA's warnings about the workload involved in delivering the dynamic hybrid system were ignored by DEFRA.

4  The TFA was a member of a DEFRA stakeholder group on the implementation of the SPS which was also attended by senior RPA officials. Prior to the announcement of the system for implementing the SPS in England, the RPA was keen to point out that if DEFRA chose to implement the SPS on any basis other than the historic basis that it would be a nightmare to administer. It said the worst of all worlds would be a dynamic hybrid. When, at a future meeting, it became clear that DEFRA was to use a dynamic hybrid, the TFA asked the RPA for its reaction. No response was received from the RPA representative however a senior DEFRA official explained that "the RPA would do what it was told to do". In the view of the TFA, practical considerations had been sacrificed in the name of political expedience and we knew from that point on that we all faced a mammoth task and that the RPA would be made the scapegoat for any failings. Serious questions need to be asked as to why Ministers in DEFRA ignored the advice from its own officials and those within the RPA.

Change Program

5  To be foisted with a system it did not want was one thing but add to that the complexities of a major, DEFRA inspired, change programme, the development of a new computer system, the closure of regional offices and the loss of thousands of staff and you have a recipe which, to say the least, did not provide the ideal environment from which to deliver on a major new policy front. TFA and other stakeholder organisations had been warning DEFRA that the dynamic model would be expensive to deliver and that significant, extra resources would be required to keep it on track. Until recently DEFRA appeared deaf to those concerns.

Advice from the RPA

6  One area were the RPA rightly deserves to be criticised is in relation to the way its telephone advice to potential SPS applicants was delivered. Given the complexities of the system it was inevitable that the RPA was going to be deluged with callers to its helpline. The RPA was completely unprepared for this and many callers experienced frustration as they were constantly faced with an engaged tone when trying to access the help desk. Some farmers literally had to make hundreds of calls before they were able to speak to someone.

7  Even when the RPA did manage to upgrade the helpline to cope with the volume of callers, the quality of advice being delivered was in many cases poor. When speaking to TFA members who had previously spoken to the RPA helpdesk, TFA staff were quite often in the position of having to tell the member to forget everything the RPA had said and then to begin again. Part of the problem related to the expectations of those calling. Often they had very specific, highly complex questions not addressed in the general scripts used by the helpdesk which appeared only to replicate the information contained in booklets which callers would have already seen.

Landlord Tenant Issues

8  On 24 June 2005 the TFA wrote to the Chief Executive of the RPA to request that the RPA carried out a thorough investigation into the status of claims made under the Single Payment Scheme. Despite chasing, the RPA has yet to respond. We set below why such a review is needed.

9  Whilst the vast majority of SPS claims will be from bona fide producers, the TFA is concerned that a significant number of claims have been submitted by individuals who would traditionally have let land and are using various devices to claim that they are in occupation of land in order to claim under the SPS themselves.

10  The Committee may be aware of the annual survey of tenanted holdings carried out by the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. In the ten-years since 1995, this survey has shown an average net increase in the amount of land let of some 30,000 acres. However in 2004, the survey showed a decrease of some 3,000 acres. The CAAV state the reason for this as landlords seeking to be in occupation to claim Single Farm Payment.

11  The TFA is concerned that whilst landlords may have drawn up legal agreements with third parties which appear to give them occupation, little has changed in a practical sense in terms of the management of and responsibility for the holding. In such circumstances, two questions arise:

a  Does the land rightly form part of the applicants holding for the purpose   of establishing SPS entitlements and;

b  Does the applicant properly have the land at his disposal for the relevant   ten-month period required by the SPS?

12  The TFA is concerned that there are a large number of agreements of convenience which owners are using to have the appearance of being in occupation and having land at their disposal, when in actuality the land is used and occupied by another individual who is required not to claim under the SPS.

13  The SPS is intended to provide transitional help to producers for reductions in support and support prices. The TFA does not believe that landowners who have made arrangements as described above should have access to the entitlements or payments offered under the Scheme.

14  Such individuals could be found by trawling through those applicants who have registered new holdings or new businesses in 2005 for the first time or those individuals who have significantly increased the amount of land forming part of their claim through the submission of IACS 22 forms. The TFA does not believe that all such individuals are undeserving of payments, only those situations where agreements of convenience have been put into place. The TFA believes strongly that this should be investigated whilst not holding up the payment process for this year. If it is found by this process that some SPS applications are ineligible, then the entitlement that would have been allocated in relation to those applications could be placed in the National Reserve for allocation to deserving cases in future years.

15  The TFA is also concerned about possible double claims where a tenant or grazier (ie the rightful claimant) has made a claim and the owner of the ground is also seeking to make a claim. The TFA has given the RPA an example of how this can occur. Again we are waiting for a response from the RPA as to how it will take matters forward. It is clear to us that unless there are very special circumstances, the first claim described here should be accepted and the second rejected.

16  These are important issues, which the TFA believes should be taken extremely seriously. There are points of public policy at stake as well as ensuring proper use of taxpayers' money under the auspices of the SPS.

Tenant Farmers Association

November 2005

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