Government needs to be prepared for change
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?
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.
Ian says the continuing chaos with farm support payments needs to stop