Harry Greenfield, CLA Senior Land Use Policy Adviser, comments on the recent announcement by the RPA on environment stewardship payments.
I wrote in a recent blog about how late payments for environmental schemes were having a negative affect on farmers, and what the CLA was doing to try and ensure the process was improved and farmers were paid the money owed to them. It seems our efforts have paid off, with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) announcing last week that farmers in Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) schemes will receive the full value of payments, up to and including 2018, by the end of July.
This has been a long time coming. It has been clear since last year that the RPA were facing a monumental backlog, especially for ES, with many 2016 payments still to be made. With thousands affected, the CLA, along with other stakeholders, has been meeting regularly with Defra and the RPA at all levels, including our Director General and President meeting with the CEO of the RPA recently.
At these meetings we consistently raised the problems and pressures that these late payments were causing. Most immediately, with many farmers owed thousands or tens of thousands of pounds, this was causing pressure on individual businesses’ cash flow. In many cases, they will have invested time and money into delivering environmental outcomes through the schemes, but the Government had failed to keep up their end of the bargain.
Beyond the farm level impacts, but potentially with longer-lasting damage, the shambolic administration of ES and CS was having a knock-on effect on farmers’ confidence in Defra to administer future environmental schemes. Defra are trying to inspire confidence in land managers about a radical new direction, with more public money spent on the environment, while revealing themselves to be seemingly incapable of administering the current system.
So, while it will certainly be a relief for those farmers who can now expect to receive their payments, let us hope that the RPA and Defra will also learn lessons from this experience and ensure that farmers and land managers are never again put in such a precarious and unjustified position.