Defra has hit back at a report suggesting the performance of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) was ‘failing on multiple levels’.
Defra said while it recognised ‘the difficulties caused by the latest incarnation of the Common Agricultural Policy’ and agreed some elements of the RPA delivery were ‘not meeting expectations’, it did not believe the ‘complex reality’ had been sufficiently recognised.
The RPA was, however, committed to learning lessons from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2017, Defra said in its written response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report.
“The RPA recognises that its overall customer service, including its communications to customers, needs to be improved and it has a series of measures being developed which are focused on delivering a better customer experience,” the response said.
Commenting on further suggestions to develop a system which enabled farmers to make direct changes to the online mapping register, the Government said it would stick to the established paper approach following a failure of the 2015 online maps option which failed to ‘work as expected’.
It also confirmed it would not be publishing key performance indicators for mapping queries and associated resolution times, but would instead introduce improved customer communications, changes to mapping guidelines and clearer customer guidance on mapping.
It will also consider appropriate performance measures ‘in due course’ and continue to update the committee on the progress of the BPS.
For Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship, people and funding will be transferred from Natural England to the RPA.
NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “The Government’s response to the Efra Committee’s report into the RPA is disappointing as it does not address challenges such as external performance targets and appropriate timing of bridging payments.
“There also needs to be a higher focus on customer service and greater opportunity for future schemes to be developed in order to prevent a repeat of previous errors.
“It is vital that the RPA has sufficient resources to deliver for farmers, both during their transition from current schemes to their replacements beyond Brexit, and that it is fully involved in the creation of future schemes to ensure they are implemented properly and delivered successfully.”