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UK farmers and taxpayers failed by dysfunctional leadership

Staff writer |
The UK Public Accounts Committee report warns failures in a project to support subsidy payments for farmers could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Committee concludes that the Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme has been "unsuccessful in many respects". In particular it finds that as a result of repeated failures in the Programme, "many farmers are being paid later than in previous years".

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) makes 105,000 payments each year to English farmers and landowners under the Common Agricultural Policy, amounting to £1.8 billion.

Since 2012, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has been leading the Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme, together with its delivery bodies, the RPA and the Government Digital Service, to develop a single IT solution for new regulations that came into force in 2014.

In January 2013, the Cabinet Office reviewed the Programme and as a result seven significant changes were made, increasing the level of innovation and risk. The Programme was originally forecast to cost £155 million, but this has increased by 40% to £215 million.

In today's report, the Committee concludes the three key bodies involved in delivering the programme were unable to work together effectively.

It highlights the impact of "dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviour" between senior officials, "potentially costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in financial penalties".

The report states: "Highly paid public servants need to get the job done and such behaviour is unacceptable."

The programme's lack of consistent priorities and changes in leadership caused disruption and delay, says the committee. it also describes the government digital service's focus on developing a digital front-end for the programme as "inappropriate for farmers", noting that "there is poor broadband coverage in many rural areas".

In the report's recommendations to government, the committee says the Department "should review its approach to tackling serious failures of management and put in place measures to stop this ever happening again."

It also urges the department to set out "clear milestones" in the coming months for when it expects to pay farmers for future years and when it will return to previous performance levels.

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