The chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) admitted the organisation’s performance was ‘nowhere near good enough’ as he was grilled by MPs last week.
Paul Caldwell was hauled before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to explain why the RPA had ‘slowed down’ in making payments since the new year.
The session was held the week after a Farmers Guardian investigation into the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) found farmers in severe financial and emotional distress still waiting for their cash.
The results of FG’s investigation were shared with MPs on the committee before the hearing and were repeatedly referenced by chair Neil Parish throughout the session.
Mr Caldwell said: “I can absolutely understand [farmers’] frustration. The first step in taking this seriously was to acknowledge it.
“I accept it was far too late in the day, but one of the first things I did after my permanent appointment to this role was to make sure we acknowledged everybody who had written to us and gave an undertaking to investigate their cases.
“We have got more to do, it is nowhere near good enough, but it is something I place high value by.”
Mr Caldwell also told MPs he would be appointing a director for customer service and customer experience, who he expects will speak directly to farmers.
“We have got much more to do to make it feel like a better, more compassionate agency to deal with”, he said.
“I think we can be a little bit too obsessive about figures instead of the story behind them.”
The slower performance of the RPA was blamed on a huge re-mapping exercise which covered 2 million land parcels.
“That created a very large bow wave of activity”, Mr Caldwell said.
“I was very keen we should do this with the minimum of disruption. I believe we have managed to do this by paying over 90 per cent of people in December, but also paying them more fully than ever before.”
For the 3,000 plus farmers still waiting for their cash, there was an assurance that bridging payments worth 75 per cent of the value of their claim will be paid by April 9.