Beckett and Benn - Wasters
Taxpayers are to be landed with a £622 million bill for bungled payments made to farmers after reform of the Common Agriculture Policy four years ago, according to the National Audit Office .
The scale of chaos and administrative failures at the Rural Payments Agency, which distributes £1.6 billion a year to English farmers, and lack of oversight by ministers is outlined today in one of the most damning audits produced by the public spending watchdog.
The inefficiencies are starkly illustrated by the estimated £1,743 cost to process each farmer’s claim for cash, a rise of 20 per cent in four years. This is six times the £285 cost for administering payments in Scotland.
The average amount paid to about 107,000 English farmers is £15,300 a year. However, the watchdog found that there were substantial overpayments — totalling between £55 million and £90 million — but the data was so unreliable that the auditors were unable to find out the precise sum. Some claims were validated 11 times by different officials and still the payments were wrong.
Many of the problems are due to the complicated payment system chosen by Margaret Beckett...
The latest study found that officials may again be keeping ministers in the dark over the true state of the payment process and the mistakes that are embedded in the expensive computer system.
Extra staff costs have already cost £304 million. About £280 million has been set aside to pay Brussels penalties for administrative errors and late payments to farmers. Costs for the IT services are already above forecasts. A contract with Accenture has cost £84 million for the past two years, yet the agency told MPs that it expected to spend £36 million in that period.
The NAO has found that some 100 Accenture staff are working full time for the agency with a salary of some £200,000 per person in the financial year 2008 to 2009....
It stops short of calling for heads to roll but raises serious questions over the future of the agency and the scrutiny of its operations by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Nick Herbert, Conservative Rural Affairs spokesman, called for a fundamental overhaul of the agency to “get a grip” on farm payments.
“Vast sums of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on excessive administration costs and fines to the EU, yet typically ministers who should be held accountable for this dismal state of affairs still refuse to accept their responsibility.”
Maybe if Defra and its ministers stopped waffling on about climate change and prosecuting farmers for ignoring the psychological needs of a cow and got on with doing their jobs we would all be better off.