BPS: To be continued...

guy smith with computer and papers, bps_600_399

Guy Smith, NFU Vice President, writes:

First let's not forget where we've come from. It starts with a new and brain-achingly complex CAP which we always warned would prove hopelessly bureaucratic. This was then  compounded by some farmer-unfriendly IT that no one could work. The long and short of it was that the application window was set back one to two months. 

But to their credit the RPA rolled up their sleeves and rallied to a cry that went up from their pugnacious chief executive, Mark Grimshaw, that they would get 'the BPS majority' paid by the New Year and 'the vast majority' by the end of January. So, has Mark pulled it off? Well yes and no.

As I write the RPA have just bullishly claimed to have paid out 42,000 of the 88,000 and they are confident they will hit and surpass the magic 44,000 half way point by the time the New Year hangovers have cleared.

But here's the rub. Our survey work and our BPS squirrels reckon that while half of claimants might have been paid, we expect the percentage of value to continue to lag behind the volume of farmers. So while the RPA can claim to have achieved half by volume, the sobering fact is it's a long way short of that by value. It might be one thumb up for Mr Grimshaw, but the other is certainly down. It's clear that the vast majority of the payments going out are in the sub £10,000 bracket. Obviously we are not saying payments to small farmers are not important but what we are very conscious of is the fact that our survey of NFU members shows that nothing like half have been paid.

Even more unsettling is the fact we have an alarming number of claimants being sent letters, at least 15,000 of them, saying they are 'unlikely to be paid by the end of January'. These letters have become colloquially known as 'the letters of doom' or 'RPA Dear John letters'. In rough terms they seem to have gone out to a number of groups, those being: anyone with a common or a cross border claim; anyone who has had an inspection irrespective of whether there was any problem or whether the farmer knew they were being inspected; anyone who has a 'complex claim' meaning if your claim is over 300 hectares you are probably in this complex category. The other worrying thing is there seems no clear idea when these claimants will be paid. And logic tells you this group will probably represent a third of the money. So, do we think Mr Grimshaw is going to hit his vast majority target by the end if January? No we don't, but we are open to being pleasantly surprised.

All in all, call us party poopers if you like, but we are coldly unimpressed by the RPA's apparent conviction that they are 'on track'. Accordingly we have a few demands of the Secretary of State at Defra who at the end of the day is Mr Grimshaw's boss.

  1. For the RPA to look at making part payments to this category of claimants who are being told they are unlikely to be paid before February BUT in a manner that doesn't compromise the payments going out to those who are scheduled to be paid before then.
  2. For those unfortunate enough to be in this late category to be given better information as to when they will be paid, at least the month of expected payment, to help planning. Telling people they will be paid sometime after January is not good enough.
  3. For resource in the RPA to be increased and certainly not decreased in the new year - which is the rumour we are hearing. Obviously here we have an eye not just on this years payments but also the forthcoming 2016 application year. 

We have requested to see the Secretary of State, Liz Truss, to make these points.

So as the end of the year beckons this saga is far from over. As they say in all good soap operas 'to be continued'.