A second progress update on the administration of the Single Payment Scheme by the Rural Payments Agency - Public Accounts Committee Contents


This is the third time in three years that we have taken evidence on the £1.6 billion Single Payment Scheme in England administered by the Rural Payments Agency (the Agency) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Department). On the basis of a follow up report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we examined the progress made in addressing our previous concerns and the capacity of senior managers in the Agency and the Department to resolve matters.[1]

Oversight of the Single Payment Scheme is a singular example of comprehensively poor administration on a grand scale. The paucity of good management information in the Agency and the complacent oversight by the Department have acted to obscure the true situation for far too long. A focus over the last two and a half years in bringing forward payments to farmers has enabled the Agency to bring its deadline forward by nearly seven weeks, but this is still six weeks off the deadline it had planned and a long way short of the standards set in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In the meantime, there has been negligible attention to the protection of tax payers' interests. Despite all the assurances previously given to this Committee, the Agency has spent £350 million on a cumbersome IT system that can only be supported at huge cost and which is increasingly at risk of becoming obsolete. The data held in the system remains riddled with errors and efforts to recover overpayments have been slow, disorganised and haphazard.

The root cause of this debacle has been poor leadership within the Agency and a lack of attention by the Department. Each claim costs over six times more to process in England than Scotland and yet the Chief Executive received a performance bonus in 2008-09. The Department was not able to demonstrate an adequate grasp of the costs of administering the scheme. There has been a high turnover of expensive senior management appointments in the Agency and it appears to have been reluctant to face up to the problems by taking the firm action required to turn the organisation round.

Responsibility rests with the Accounting Officers to resolve this misadministration. We are very concerned at the absence of progress to date and we look to the Departmental Accounting Officer to take personal responsibility for this scheme, develop an action plan and to report back to us regularly on progress. We expect to receive the first progress report by the end of January 2010 and to see clear evidence that our concerns are being properly addressed.

1   C&AG's Report, A Second Progress Update on the Administration of the Single Payment Scheme by the Rural Payments Agency, HC (2008-09) 880 Back

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