NFU slams half - hearted RPA targets

Minister Jonathan Shaw has announced that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) must pay 75% of Single Payments by the end of January 2009, but farming leaders say it is not enough.

In a statement made yesterday, the minister also set the RPA a target to try and pay 90% of valid SPS claims by the end of March 2009.

Yet the National Farmers' Union has slammed the targets, claiming they will still leave farmers in England trailing behind their European counterparts.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: "If paying 75% by the end of January 2009 is the 'steady state' the Efra committee was promised by Helen Ghosh back in April, then Lord help us. Whatever happened to aspiring to be on a par with the rest of Europe?

"Farmers have had to bear with disastrous delivery from the RPA since the outset of the Single Payment Scheme, but were assured all along that things would be sorted out by the end of scheme year 2008.

"Hearing that sorting things out means Defra is happy to lag behind the rest of Europe will only add to farmers' sense of disillusionment about the government's ability - and ambition - to deliver.

"What really concerns me, apart from the lack of ambition on the part of ministers, is the irony that they should even be considering making administrative changes to the SPS as part of a plan to offset this year's zero per cent set-aside rate.

"I would have thought the last thing that good administration warranted was fiddling with a system that is evidently still far from fit for purpose and is still bogged down with a backlog of wrong payments and incorrect entitlement statements - never mind dreaming up new cross-compliance conditions that will add to the RPA's delivery burden.

"I would urge ministers to rethink these payment targets and aim to match the rest of Europe. And to think very carefully before making policy decisions within the context of the current CAP Health Check, which could jeopardise the RPA's return to steady state."

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