Guy Smith, NFU Vice President, writes:
I’m sure I’m not the only one to appreciate the irony that a lot of BPS payments seem to go out around Christmas.
There are strong parallels with childhood memories of waking up on Christmas morning to see what Santa has delivered and the modern day version of going on line to see if the bank statement is showing anything from the RPA. Similarly there are the split emotions of elation and disappointment.
I’m also reminded that the festive cheer that can come from the payment quickly gets spread around. I’m well aware that people like feed reps and fertiliser salesmen experience the same anxiety over when BPS payments will hit farm bank accounts so they in turn get payments and new orders. In fact, it’s been shown that BPS payments have a multiplier effect of 4:1 in the wider rural economy. BPS money doesn’t hang around in farm bank accounts for long!
So how is December 2017 shaping up in terms of payment performance? As I write, the RPA have just announced they have paid out 83% of claims and 74% of the fund. Experience tells me it is the fund figure that tends to better reflect what proportion on NFU members have been paid. So that makes it three quarters of us are with and a quarter are without.
I’m often asked do I trust these RPA figures as members often feel it doesn’t seem to reflect how it feels on the ground.
My view is that I do trust the figures because firstly if the RPA were found to be lying it would be a very serious matter not treated lightly and secondly the RPA is audited and investigated by a number of EU bodies such as the EU court of auditors as well getting UK parliamentary and treasury scrutiny.
Looking forward in the short term we are hopeful we will see at least another six to seven thousand payments go out before the New Year so that the RPA hits it’s much vaunted promise that its performance this year will at least match last year's.
While we are pleased to see a healthy majority of members paid reasonably promptly after the opening of the payment window on 1 December, we remain very mindful that there are still thousands of members for whom the anxious wait continues.
We suspect it will tend to be those inspected who will be those with the longest wait as the RPA continues to struggle with processing inspections. It is worth noting here that members might not be aware of an inspection because they can be done remotely by satellite.
For those not paid by early January we are demanding two things. Firstly, that they are given some idea of when they are likely to be paid so they can plan cash flows accordingly. Talking to members, I’m only too aware that it is not just the lack of payment that causes anxiety it’s also the lack of information. Secondly, we want bridging payments for those not paid by early January.
Another thing we are keen to see alongside a prompt payment is the breakdown of the payment so members can understand why they have been paid what they have. Given the amount of outstanding issues we have from previous years and given the remapping exercise that has been undertaken since the summer, it is inevitable that many members may receive less than they anticipated. They will urgently need to know exactly why that is so they can plan the next steps.
We remain concerned how much the RPA has still in its ‘outstanding’ issues file and we have no doubt that file will be getting significantly thicker as current payments go out. We still want to see improved customer services at the RPA - ideally a return to whole case workers in regional offices to whom members can speak directly to about their issues and importantly resolve issues swiftly.
Finally I wish everyone a merry Christmas - including the staff at the RPA who I know work hard to get BPS payments out often in difficult circumstances. And I also wish everyone a happy New Year so we can look forward to a speedy completion and resolution of all the 2016/17 payments. It might be Christmas but I’m aware spring and 15 May will come round soon enough.