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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Farmer counting the cost of delay
After MPs called for former Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to be held to account over delayed EU subsidies to farmers, one farmer has described the tussles he is still having over the way the subsidies are implemented.

Last year, thousands of farmers were hit by delays at the Rural Payments Agency - with some still waiting for their cash.

The National Union of Farmers says some of its members have suffered difficulties and even hardship because their payments have been delayed.

Farmers say the delays make it hard to plan ahead
Last year, Leicestershire farmer Andrew Brown lost 2,000 in extra bank charges because of the delays.

He agreed with an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report calling for Mrs Beckett to be among those considering their positions.

"It was Mrs Beckett who decided to go down this route of the most complicated system for England and England alone," he said.

"Whereas in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, they had a different system and they paid their farmers on time. So that left the English farmers at a great disadvantage.

"And where else but the Westminster village would the person who's in charge of this mess get promoted to foreign secretary?"

Alternative scheme

Mr Brown, whose farm includes cattle, sheep and crops, is battling with the Rural Payments Agency over a patch of his land measuring just 14m by 14m (45ft x 45ft).

He is trying to claim for it under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) - the new way of granting subsidies for which the Rural Payments Agency was set up.

It works out how much each farmer should get in subsidy according to his cultivated area.

The RPA say the disputed section has trees on it, so is covered by the Woodland Grant Scheme not the SPS, and the two payment schemes cannot overlap.

Mr Brown disagrees: "I have got trees on the farm, but the field that they reckon is overlapping hasn't got a tree in it, so I find that rather surprising."

He has been told there is another problem too.

"Apparently I've also over-claimed on two other fields, even though I've actually used the figures for the size of the fields which they gave me, so I don't understand how that can be right."

'A farce'

The RPA sent a letter to Mr Brown telling him they would be transferring the amount of 0.00 into his bank account.

He is furious with the situation and says the delays and disputes have caused him a lot of stress.

"I had the same problem last year as everyone else did with the lateness of the payment," he said.

"The helpline was a farce because the first person you would speak to would be in Newcastle, the next would be in Exeter, and the next in Reading.

"I got my local MP involved and Baroness Byford, the shadow agriculture spokesman in the House of Lords, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman to try and see if that would do any good.

"This year they have given me a whole case worker who is at least able to give me some reassurance that things are happening.

"But according to Tony Cooper, the head of the RPA, it will be 2008 at the earliest before the system is running smoothly."

A spokesman for the agency said he could not comment on individual claims, but said: "RPA is committed to providing a consistently high standard of service. If any customer has a query or complaint we aim to respond to it quickly, efficiently and professionally."

Beckett attacked on farm payments
29 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
Ex-farm payments boss apologises
17 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Farmers still wait for subsidies
18 Dec 06 |  UK Politics

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