The government has responded to a devastating report by MPs on the failure of an IT project to implement a new payments scheme for farmers by saying it is “confident” a new management team can deliver.
The report from the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee called for the cabinet minister and top civil servants in charge of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to resign or be sacked, following the debacle.
The Rural Payments Agency’s failed IT project to implement teh Single Payments Scheme – which consolidates 11 separate EU subsidies – left farmers out of pocket by a total of up to £22.5m, while the cost to Defra is estimated at up to £500m.
The MPs called for former environment secretary Margaret Beckett – now foreign secretary – and Sir Brian Bender, the former permanent secretary at Defra who now occupies teh equivalent post at the Department for Trade and Industry, to be held accountable for the debacle.
The report says: “Accountability should mean that good results are rewarded, but a failure as serious as this of a department to deliver one of its fundamental functions should result in the removal from post of those to whom the faulty policy design and implementation can be attributed.”
A Defra spokesperson said the department would consider the report’s conclusions and recommendations and make a formal response to the committee. Defra had apologised for the problems farmers had experienced.
She added: “A new management team is in place at the RPA. We are confident that the senior management team can deliver. There will be no let up in putting in place further measures aimed at delivering a stable and reliable payment system in the years ahead.”
A spokesperson for foreign secretary Margaret Becket said she was currently dealing with the situation of British troops detained in Iran and had not yet received a copy of the MPs’ report. “As secretary of state at Defra, she took decisions in good faith on the single farm payment, based on the information and expert advice given to her at the time,” the spokeperson added.
The committee's report makes a series of recommendations and also calls on Defra and the RPA to cost and publish details of new IT changes needed to make the payments system work.
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