Natural England chief Guy Thompson has admitted to a group of MPs he does not expect the issues with Countryside Stewardship to be ironed out next year.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee slammed Mr Thompson over delays to agri-environment payments, of which 86 per cent have been issued.
Asked by a visibly angry committee chair Neil Parish whether Natural England would be making the same excuses for failure next year, Mr Thompson said: “Countryside Stewardship has got off to an imperfect start.
“I suspect we are still going to be seeing, with the complexity of control requirements and evidence requirements which we have had to build in to the scheme, some of the same concerns.”
MPs David Simpson and Chris Davies both asked if Natural England realised how serious the situation was for farmers when they were left waiting for payments, and were assured the body was ‘alive’ to the need to get cash out into the rural economy.
Problems were blamed on the complexity of EU rules, the need to gather vast amounts of evidence from applicants, difficulties with the IT system which is shared with the Rural Payments Agency and the need to prioritise BPS payments.
Mr Thompson was also taken to task for MPs by alluding to a lack of resources only to backtrack moments later.
Up to speed
NFU vice president Guy Smith said: “We are pleased to see that the MPs on the EFRA committee are up to speed with the problems that Natural England is experiencing at the moment in terms of Countryside Stewardship delivery.
“Hopefully they will encourage Defra to have a good hard look at the IT platform going forward to make it better fit for purpose.
“Too often we are hearing Natural England using euphemistic terms such as ‘real time management’ and ‘agile build’ when it comes to their approach here. As farmers we call that ‘suck it and see’ or ‘doing it by the seat of the pants’. This is not satisfactory and we want to see Natural England more on top of this very soon.”