The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has welcomed the decision of the House of Commons, Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, to call both Rural Payments Agency and Natural England officials to account on how they have handled both the Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship schemes.
The Select Committee, chaired by Neil Parish MP, is to hold an evidence session with both sets of officials on Wednesday 26 June. This follows the decision of the Government to provide Treasury funded bridging payments to scheme participants awaiting overdue payments dating back to 2015.
TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn, said “The Government must be held to account for its maladministration which is damaging hard pressed, farm businesses both now and their willingness to look at new Environmental Land Management Schemes in the future. The TFA has been asking the Select Committee to intervene on this and it might even be that the summons of the Select Committee to give oral evidence provided the impetus needed for the announcement of the bridging payments”.
“Historically, the UK has been a trailblazer in the development of agri-environment schemes. Schemes such as Environmentally Sensitive Areas and the original Countryside Stewardship led the way as the gold standard. However, we have allowed increasing centralisation of scheme management, slavish reliance upon IT and an overly process driven approach to derail our performance. We must re-gain traction on this without delay,” said Mr Dunn.
The Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment has ambitious targets for tackling climate change, protecting clean air and clean water, restoring landscapes and managing ecosystems to promote thriving biodiversity.
“Sadly, through the mismanagement of the current suite of schemes, the farming community increasingly considers the Government not to be trusted to deliver a true partnership approach. Farmers face intrusive inspections which lead to the imposition of penalties for alleged infringements of scheme rules which have little consequence for the outcomes that are being delivered and yet the Government has spectacularly failed in making contracted payments to agreement holders. Officials have got to explain why this has happened and what they are going to do to guarantee that whatever new schemes come along will be run in a much more efficient manner,” said Mr Dunn.
“The farming community stands ready to commit to new schemes, but it needs to know the Government is ready too,” said Mr Dunn.