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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 20:31 GMT
Ex-RPA chief 'still being paid'
Lamb quads on a British farm
Some farmers are still waiting for their 2005 payments
The government is trying to end the employment of the former head of the troubled Rural Payments Agency - eight months after he was replaced.

Johnston McNeill left on paid leave of nearly 114,000 a year, amid complaints that many farmers had not received their 2005 EU subsidies.

Since he left in March, he is thought to have cost the taxpayer 71,000.

Junior minister Barry Gardiner said they were trying to end his employment "as a matter of urgency".

"Johnston McNeill is currently on paid leave of absence and we are in the process of taking the appropriate action to bring his employment to an end," he said in a ministerial statement.

"Clearly the details of this are part of Johnston McNeill's employment with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and it is therefore not appropriate to disclose details."

Backlog

The government's Rural Payments Agency (RPA) allocates about 1.5bn under the EU's single farm payment scheme.

The new system calculates a single annual subsidy for each farmer for looking after their land, rather than a series of payments for producing food.

But farmers claim long delays in payouts from 2005 have driven them to take out loans and forced some into bankruptcy.

The RPA has yet to make more than 1,700 payments from 2005, of which 41 are claims for more than 1,000 Euros, MPs were told on Monday.

The interim chief executive of the RPA, Tony Cooper, told the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee there was also a backlog of 12,000 letters and pieces of correspondence to answer.

But he said the figure was down from 28,000 and there was a "concerted effort" to sift through it all.

Mr Gardiner also told shadow agriculture minister James Paice the number of complaints against the RPA had risen from three in 2001 to 523 in 2006 to date.

Environment Secretary David Miliband has already said that not all farmers will get their 2006 subsidy by the target date of next June.




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