Adam Rickitt: The farce that is the Rural Payments Agency
In whatever form it takes, and over whatever country it presides, the role of any Government can be defined by two simple duties of care: to provide the best for its people, and to protect them from the worst.
Within our own nation the first of these covers the broad range of social, economic and political dilemmas that face our society, from NHS funding to policing, education to the environment, economic strength to political sovereignty. These are the issues that compete for the attention of politicians and pull for support from the Treasury but which any Government should strive to better for the empowerment and provision of its citizens.
The second issue is to always ensure the country is as well prepared as possible should disaster ever strike - be it on the military, environmental, medical or political fronts. By this we mean a Government should always ensure that her country is in a position to be able to exist and to thrive independently in the face of whatever future adversity may arise.
The three vital factors in this are the 3 “F’s”: Forces, Fuel and Food.
Our armed forces should always be fully supported and funded (failure number one for Tony and Gordon). They should be able to protect their compatriots in wartime and be able to act swiftly, secure in the knowledge that the resources are always in place. We should ensure that as a country we are independently able to sustain our lifeblood of power, in whatever form it takes (again get your heads out of the sand you two and start making the necessary choices). Finally we should ensure that as a country we always have the ability to feed ourselves should the worst happen and external sources be cut off.
Now this may all sound terribly dramatic but these are the fundamentals. They have to be in place to ensure a nation’s ability to survive in the face of unknown future adversity. With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the familiar geo-politics that dominated the post WW2 world we inhabit a politically volatile and environmentally endangered planet, with no certain path before us. Without certainty as to where the next threat may lay, the need to plan for all eventualities is more acute than ever.
So it is that having been born and raised in a rural community I have been able to bare sad witness to this government’s total ineptitude in support of our farming community. Not only are these hard working men and women the custodians of our countryside, vital in the maintaining of our rural communities and economies, but they also provide the essential public service of providing fundamental resources should the need ever arise.
Yet despite this Labour has been willing to endanger their very existence with its callous blunders within the subsidy system and the farce that is the Rural Payments Agency. This is a department whose own website declares itself to be a “customer focused organisation delivering high quality services”…well I pity the fool which trusts in that!
By the deadline of March this year, in England, only 13% of the required 96% of the £1.6 billion single farm payments had been made, compared to 90% in Scotland and Wales. As a result farm debt has topped £10 billion for the first time, and is increasing at a rate of £13 million a month as farmers seek to bridge the financial gap with loans in order to survive while awaiting their promised payments. Why should they have to go further into debt for no fault of their own, but because of Government incompetence?
Indeed it seems the only thing the RPA has managed to succeed in to date, is to introduce an IT system whose cost has rocketed from £18.1 million to £37.4 million, pay the man responsible for its introduction £225,000, and then apparently get themselves caught on CCTV having sex, taking drugs and holding break dance contests during work hours. Makes a game of croquet seem pretty tame stuff!
The farmer’s fault in all this? None. The RPA even neglected to post their applications in time, and then offered inadequate and ill-informed lines of support throughout the process. Our farming community has been treated with contempt by an uncaring Ministry for Agriculture, and ignored by an image-obsessed media. Can you imagine the uproar if our NHS funding was effectively misplaced, or our prisons left unguarded? But that is what is happening here. Away from the public eye a vital industry is being bankrupted because of Labour’s ineptitude, our rural communities endangered, and the future ability of our nation to feed itself placed in jeopardy.
In a humiliating admission of guilt the Government have finally conceded to paying the interest on those extra loans forced upon our farmers. Disgracefully overdue as this is, it does not go far enough. We need a promise that if there are to be further delays in payment then interim funds will be supplied. Long term we need assurance that such calamitous mistakes, which have resulted in additional costs of around £30 million to an already struggling industry, are forever averted.
We should cherish our farming community, recognise the vital role they play in our rural economy, the potential life saving service they offer our country, and treat them with the respect and support they deserve.
Adam Smith put it thus; "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." Farmers are in business. Yet this Government is making their business impossible. More and more people are leaving farming altogether as it becomes increasingly unprofitable and bureaucracy ridden. Urgent action is needed to support them. The consequences of inaction for our country and our countryside are too ghastly to contemplate.