The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will be given ‘additional capacity’ to issue no-deal support so it does not fall behind on delivering Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) cash, Defra’s top civil servant has confirmed.
The Government is known to be working on two options to support the sheep sector in a no-deal Brexit – headage payments and a slaughterhouse premium on lambs.
Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers also hinted the department may be considering ways to cushion the blow for other sectors during an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee hearing on September 9, though would not reveal any details of these plans.
Given the RPA has struggled in the past to get BPS payments out on time, and the long waits farmers have had for agri-environment cash, concern has been growing about how the agency would cope with the extra workload.
Asked by independent MP Angela Smith about whether no-deal support payments were deliverable during the Efra Committee meeting, Defra’s permanent secretary Tamara Finkelstein said: “We are specifically taking action to ensure we have additional capacity available in order to do such an intervention, if such an intervention was required.
“The last thing you want is not to get some basic payments out, which would mean people were suffering in other ways.
“We have taken that action already in order to be in the best position and with the capacity to do what is needed.”
Defra is not believed to have shared the details of how much extra staffing or contractor capacity the RPA will receive with industry.
But Guy Smith, deputy president of the NFU, told Farmers Guardian he welcomed the reassurance.
“We are pleased to hear the permanent secretary recognise it is crucially important the RPA is given additional capacity so any emergency mitigation payments in the event of no-deal do not compromise the smooth roll-out of timely and accurate BPS or agri-environment payments,” he said.
“Too often in the past we have seen payments delivery sent close to meltdown due to additional pressures and workload on the RPA.
“This simply must not happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”