Rural Payments Agency
Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
10:30 am

Photo of Tessa Munt

Tessa Munt (Wells, Liberal Democrat)

What progress she has made on improving the performance of the Rural Payments Agency.

Photo of James Paice

James Paice (The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; South East Cambridgeshire, Conservative)

Progress continues to be made in addressing the dire legacy described vividly in the independent review of the RPA published last year. Despite the issues arising from the updating of farmers' maps and reduced staff numbers, the RPA met its target to pay 85% of 2010 claimants by the end of December. But there is still much to do and it will inevitably take some time to address some very long-standing problems fully.

Photo of Tessa Munt

Tessa Munt (Wells, Liberal Democrat)

I ask the Minister to recognise the work of the Farm Crisis Network, particularly the work of Suzie Wilkinson, the FCN's co-ordinator in Somerset, and the pastoral and practical support it gives to farmers working under stress. In Somerset, there were 12 new cases in January, 10 of whom are owed something like £295,000. Farmers face eviction by banks, are unable to pay for feed and some may have to sell their stock because of TB problems. Will the Minister ensure that the RPA accelerates the cases of Somerset farmers, such as Bob Pether, whose payments have been incorrect every year since-

Photo of James Paice

James Paice (The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; South East Cambridgeshire, Conservative)

I have huge admiration for the work of the Farm Crisis Network, which I have visited and met on a number of occasions. The hon. Lady is right to say that it supports some very hard-pressed farmers, particularly small farmers, for whom the single farm payment is a major part of their income and without which they would be in desperate straits. I am determined that the RPA should find a way forward to get some cash into the hands of those people as soon as possible. If she would like to write to me about particular cases, I would be happy to pursue them.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South, Labour)

Will the Minister tell us how many staff will be cut from the RPA as a result of the 30% departmental spending cuts? Will he also explain how that will speed up payments to farmers?

Photo of James Paice

James Paice (The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; South East Cambridgeshire, Conservative)

The hon. Lady assumes that the RPA was working efficiently, but it certainly was not, as the previous question demonstrates. Yes, the reduction in overall public expenditure means that the RPA is having to take a reduction in staff alongside all other arm's length bodies, but at the same time it is becoming far more efficient, with better work practices and a new chief executive who started a fortnight ago. I am convinced we can do better with less.