Upland farmers have told the RPA that their businesses could be compromised by the organisation’s continued failure to meet deadlines and honour its commitments.
Speaking after a meeting with the NFU Uplands Forum, chairman, Robin Milton, said he was pleased that RPA staff had met with them to listen to their concerns. But he warned that farmers could be forced to drop annual or seasonal commitments, such as paying for feed and fertilisers or re-investing in their businesses, without prompt payment.
“With the apparent inability of the RPA to meet deadlines or honour commitments farmers are rightly concerned and frustrated that empty promises will compromise their businesses,” he said.
“With intense pressure being applied from the NFU at all levels, the RPA continues to tell us that it is still adamant that payments will be delivered promptly in the coming weeks and months.
“We have been assured that cross checks have now taken place with Natural England for forthcoming stewardship funding. This should put Natural England and RPA in a place to allow initial 2016 ELS, HLS and Countryside Stewardship payments in the coming months. We ask these are made without delay, in order to help alleviate some of the now major cash flow issues our members face and especially those in the uplands.”
Mr Milton said it was now important for the RPA to deal with remaining BPS payments as soon as possible.
“This includes adjustments to common land - as a result of the Minchinhampton court case - and to deliver BPS 2016 payments to all ahead of the 2017 application window opening next spring.,” he added.
“It is absolutely critical that this work includes sorting out the backlog of common land claim issues that exist at this time. What would help the industry regain confidence in the RPA is if it set out a clear timeline to show how these key BPS 2015 to 2017 elements are to be achieved to allow quick and efficient payment.
“However, we also need a firm commitment from the RPA to improve its customer service and communications - bringing back whole case workers would be a start. There is a need for increased transparency in future payment delivery with timely release of claim breakdown and also inspection data, which has been found wanting over recent months and vitally needed to help those farmers with underlying concerns at this point with their BPS 2015 payments.
“Many farmers have annual and seasonal commitments that they will not be able to meet without these payments coming in December. With the previous year having ongoing consequences in the short term, farmers cannot continue to run with these issues affecting their business.”
NFU Vice President Guy Smith added: “As the seemingly endless clear up operation from last year hopefully approaches a conclusion, focus now switches to the RPA’s promise that it will pay 90% of claims for this year by 31 December.
“While we are determined to hold the RPA to that promise, we are also clear that the 90% of payments must be accurate and that categories of claimants such as commoners who faced endless delays last time shouldn't disproportionately feature in the 10% still unpaid by the end of the year. To my mind if that happened it would be tantamount to victimisation.”