Gov­ern­ment needs to be pre­pared for change

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Countryside -

Brexit looms, and with it a com­pletely new method of sup­port­ing British farm­ers. What hope is there, Bridg­wa­ter and West Som­er­set Con­ser­va­tive MP Ian Liddell-Grainger in­quires of Farm­ing Min­is­ter Ge­orge Eus­tice, of the new sys­tem work­ing smoothly when the RPA still can’t even op­er­ate the old one?

DEAR Ge­orge

First of all: for­get the idea of a sausage tax. All it would do would be to drive peo­ple away from qual­ity prod­ucts and en­cour­age them to buy cheaper and thus un­health­ier va­ri­eties and would, there­fore, be to­tally counter-pro­duc­tive.

End of ar­gu­ment. Don’t want to hear any­thing more about it from you, from the rest of the Gov­ern­ment or, par­tic­u­larly from a bunch of re­searchers in­ter­fer­ing in mat­ters they don’t fully un­der­stand and who are prob­a­bly ve­g­ans any­way.

What I do want to take up with you is the con­tin­u­ing chaos with farm sup­port pay­ments which, as the feed­back from my farmer con­stitu- ents in­di­cates, is get­ting worse in­stead of bet­ter. Thing is, the RPA and its ap­palling track record has been hang­ing round Defra’s neck like an al­ba­tross for years and no-one, not any of your pre­de­ces­sors nor any of the ex­pen­sively-hired and gen­er­ously-re­mu­ner­ated chief ex­ec­u­tives who have os­ten­si­bly run the place have been able to sort it out.

Frankly Ge­orge, while the likes of you and me have our salaries paid in by the bank ev­ery month we have no idea of how it feels to be de­pen­dent on a creak­ing, tot­ter­ing and in­ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment agency for a slice of in­come which is go­ing to make all the dif­fer­ence be­tween profit and loss, sur­vival or fail­ure, keep­ing the farm or be­ing forced to sell it and get out.

It is not a pleas­ant feel­ing. It is cer­tainly not one I should care to ex­pe­ri­ence. And what is com­pound­ing it at the mo­ment is the grad­u­ally hard­en­ing at­ti­tude of some of the banks which are be­com­ing less and less sym­pa­thetic the later the pay­ments ar­rive and the larger the over­draft grows – de­spite the fact that (apart from in the case of ten­ant farm­ers, of course) their money is pretty well se­cured on the value of the land.

Yet no one in your de­part­ment seems to give two hoots about all this.

The fact is, Ge­orge, that mon­u­men­tal change to the way farm sup­port is de­liv­ered is now firmly in sight and we still ap­pear to be mon­u­men­tally un­pre­pared for it.

Worse than that: when the RPA is still mak­ing a to­tal hash of de­liv­er­ing un­der the present sys­tem what con­fi­dence can one have that come April it will be un­der starter’s or­ders ready to make the new one work?

We need to pri­ori­tise the job of sort­ing out the mess and above all in­stil a new cul­ture at the RPA so that of­fi­cials stop ruth­lessly pe­nal­is­ing farm­ers for the tini­est in­ac­cu­racy or in­fringe­ment while re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge, let alone apol­o­gise for, the mas­sive hor­licks they them­selves are mak­ing of the job.

Yours ever

Ian

Ian says the con­tin­u­ing chaos with farm sup­port pay­ments needs to stop

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