The NFU has called for full consideration to be given to contingency plans like paper applications and extended deadlines as problems with the Rural Payments service persist.
The online Rural Payments service, through which all CAP schemes in England will be accessed, should be available today (March 17) but with very limited functionality in light of ongoing problems with the service.
The system was meant to be ugraded over the weekend to provide it with much improved functionality this week.
However, on Monday agents and farmers who had used the system reported no discernable improvement, prompting further unease about whether it would be fully functional in time for the first Basic Payment Scheme application deadline on May 15.
In the latest posting on Defra’s CAP reform blog on Monday, Alice Hammond said: “Rural Payments service will be available tomorrow but you will not be able to view or edit land. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
“This is to allow us to continue to make technical updates. Please keep checking our blog for the latest information.”
She stressed registration is available and customers can check and update their personal details, check business details and give permissions.
Beyond that, the Rural Payments Agency has so far given little away about the success of the latest update or what contingency plans could be put in place if the system does not improve markedly.
During a recent meeting with industry leaders, RPA executives committed to making full mapping functions available from this weekend.
Last week, NFU vice president Guy Smith suggested the success of latest upgrade would be key to ensuring the system was fit-for-purpose.
He said: “If this level of functionality is not successfully dropped in this week then I’m sure the mood of the NFU and farmers will heighten from one of concern to one of justified alarm.”
On Monday (March 16), after no sign of improvement he said there appeared to be serious problems with the system and called for the RPA and Defra to shed light on its contingency plans.
“After another week of poor functionality and a speed that would make a snail look swift, it’s becoming painfully clear that there is something still fundamentally awry with the BPS software,” he said.
“With just two months to go until May 15th it is inevitable that contingency plans such as deadline extensions and paper applications will have to be discussed.
“While the NFU welcomes fresh thinking which will ensure farmers can get their applications in on time and in good order, we remain concerned that this must be thought through.
“Any Plan B must not compromise the ability of the RPA to deliver support payments promptly after the opening of the payment window on December 1st 2015.
“With cash flows in many sectors starting to look stretched, any delays in getting these payments out could take us back to the misery of 2006 and 2007. This was a scenario we were hoping we had left firmly behind.”
Speaking at the NFU conference in late February, RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw urged farmers to be patient with the new system.
“I would be confident, by the end of the application window, we will have a service which will allow claimants to submit their application form. It may not be as neat and tidy with all the smooth service you have come to expect with SPS, but we will get through this and we will build on it for the future,” he said.
Last week, the RPA outlined what the ongoing updates to the system should deliver. In March it expected farmers to have the ability to:
In April it said they should be able to:
“Farmers will be able to finish their claim and submit well in advance of the May 15 deadline,” an RPA spokesman said.