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
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.
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
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
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