Defra Secretary Michael Gove must realise ‘the buck stops with him’ - not the Rural Payments Agency or Natural England when it comes to late payments.
Speaking at this week’s NFU Council meeting, the union’s deputy president Guy Smith said while Mr Gove had admitted delivery of Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments was not good enough, the Minister was ultimately responsible for the administration failures which had left some farming families waiting two years for money owed.
Mr Smith said while performance had improved on last year and an extra 200 staff had been drafted in to help with the backlog, the union was continuing to seek legal recourse.
“The legal team has been looking at this for some time, we might be able to use the courts to try to progress this,” he told members.
“If this was a situation where a plumber did a job two years ago and was not paid he would not be happy. You do not run a business on these lines."
Richard Betton, North Riding and Durham Council delegate and Farming Community Network representative, said late CS payments were compounding stress levels.
“Farmers are carrying out management at their expense and we are nearly two years down the line,” he said.
“If you did the same thing to a civil servant the country would grind to a standstill.”
He said because farms were small businesses the Government felt as if it could ignore its contractual obligations.
“It is a public disgrace and a betrayal of the farming community,” he said, adding farmers would be less inclined to sign up to future land management schemes such as ELMS due to their bad experiences with Countryside Stewardship.
NFU North West’s next Regional Management Board Chairman Alistair Mackintosh highlighted the lack of communication between Government agencies and farmers.
“We need a communication route for farmers to be able to follow their claim,” he said.
“The stress it causes when farmers have to go back to the bank to request overdraft extensions; the first thing the bank will ask is when they think they are going to be paid.”
NFU West Riding county chairwoman Rachel Hallos added: “Can someone write to me to tell me why I have not been paid my HLS so that when I have to go to my bank to request and extension on my overdraft I can prove that someone has got my claim?”
Mr Smith added: “It is the not knowing which causes the stress.”
A Defra spokesperson said getting money into people’s bank accounts as quickly as possible was a priority for the department.
"The Secretary of State has reiterated that we need to urgently address the problems with farm payment schemes. The RPA is driving up performance on Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship after delivering significant improvements on the Basic Payment Scheme this year, with 99.7 per cent of 2018 claims now complete.
"We are working hard to simplify and improve the existing schemes so that farmers and land managers want to continue to sign up for agreements.”
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