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Defra blasted by pressure group

by 5m Editor
7 November 2006, at 11:44am

UK - If a company had delayed payments on the scale of Defra with the SPS, then it would have been be put into liquidation, a pressure group fighting on behalf of private businesses said today.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) has called upon the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, David Miliband MP, to grasp the nettle and put an end to the wait for money still owed to England's farmers.

The business pressure group, which represents around 25,000 small and medium-sized firms, is calling for Defra to learn from its mistakes and end the misery for smaller businesses in the rural economy.

Paul Gregory, late payment adviser for FPB, said: "It's about time someone stood up and took responsibility for what is still happening to farmers and firms in England's countryside.

"Months after the Government made yet another promise to deliver, the wait for payment continues. We have seen a regular pattern of promise followed by failure and it is time for the cycle to be broken."

A National Audit Office (NAO) report, published in October, showed that the failure of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to deliver last year's Single Farm Payments (SFP) efficiently, is costing English farmers and firms who work with them millions of pounds in interest charges.

The UK Government faces a fine of around £130 million from the European Commission for its handling of the scheme. In a House of Lords debate last month, ex-NFU President and distinguished Peer Lord Plumb (Con) made the point that excuses have run out for the failure to deliver payments. He said:

"Loss of revenue is one thing, but the loss of trust and confidence, both in the Government and in the department, is considerable. Why cannot the English scheme be delivered in the declared timescale, when the Germans, who applied exactly the same scheme, paid on the nail within a matter of weeks from the beginning of their scheme?"

Mr Gregory believes Defra's performance in delivering the SFP would not have been tolerated elsewhere: "If any public or private company had delayed payments on this scale for this period of time they would have been put into liquidation."

The FPB is writing to Mr Miliband to call for an end to the systemic failure of the SFP, the completion of 2005 payments now, and no repeat for 2006 payments.

ThePoultrySite News Desk

5m Editor