The NFU has welcomed Defra’s announcement on bridging payments now being available for some Countryside Stewardship agreement holders, but says all in agri-environment schemes –HLS, ELS and CS Higher-Tier or Mid-Tier – who are owed payment should be eligible.
The NFU has expressed concern over the announcement made today that only agreement holders since 2017 will be eligible for a bridging payment.
The announcement from Defra comes shortly after a strong call from NFU Council yesterday, which made the case for bridging payments for all schemes to the value of 75% of the annual payment. In addition, the NFU joined with CLA and TFA to send a letter to Secretary of State Michael Gove yesterday evening.
NFU Deputy President Guy Smith said: “On the face of it, this announcement shows that Defra is listening to the concerns of those agreement holders affected and it’s this sentiment we welcome.
“But to only solve the problem for a select few agreement holders, ignoring those in other HLS, ELS and CS Higher-Tier, is not acceptable. Agreement holders of any sort that are left waiting for payment should be eligible for a bridging payment. The principle is rather simple: if Defra accept the case that it’s not acceptable to expect agreement holders to wait any longer for money owed then that clearly applies to all those waiting not just a minority.
“We haven’t yet had any clarification on how they are going to deliver these bridging payments but what we hope to see is extra resource going in to Natural England to support this work. If we don’t see extra resource then I can’t foresee any decent progress being made in delivering the outstanding 25% of payment to agreement holders.
“It is clear that we need a long-term fix in the administration of the scheme; what we don’t want is one step forwards with this bridging payments announcement, but three steps back in the long-run.
“We still await news from Defra on establishing a rollover option for scheme renewals. We simply cannot let good environmental enhancement go to waste for lack of a functional scheme. We will continue to make the case for these options to Defra.”