Scott Mann has described his “frustration” at the continuing delays to Basic Farm Payments being suffered by farmers in Cornwall.
Payments for 2015 started in November, but now in mid-April, thousands are still waiting, with the window to submit 2016 claims only days away.
A report issued by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has already blasted DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for the delays to farm payments under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), formerly known as Single Farm Payments.
Writing to Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for Farming, Scott described the “disappointment being felt by thousands of farmers across the country who have waited considerable time for their payments”, adding that farmers in North Cornwall have “suffered from delays.”
“The length of delay that has been endured by farmers since late 2015 is threatening their ability to farm, and as a result of these delays, farmers are plunging deeper into their overdrafts while hoping their payment comes through before hitting their limit.
“The severe delays suffered by farmers has significantly knocked their confidence in the Basic Payment Scheme, fearing that their 2016 payment will face similar delays next year which will only further impact their ability to do business and avoid falling into further debt.
“Farms in North Cornwall are predominantly dairy, who have been weathering consistently low milk prices with many struggling just to break even let alone turn a profit. The delay in BPS payments has only further weakened their ability to farm, and with no rise in prices on the horizon, these dairy farmers are particularly susceptible to going bankrupt.”
In his letter, Scott asked that the RPA be given more staff to handle BPS claims as well as an overhauled telephone helpline for queries.
He also asked that farmers who have incurred interest charges on loans and overdrafts as a result of payment delays be compensated by the Government.
Scott has received many complaints from farmers in North Cornwall in recent weeks, some of whom were told their payment would be made over four months ago.
Commenting on the situation, Scott said:
“I understand that delays are sometimes inevitable in government, but delays of this magnitude simply aren’t acceptable.
“Delays started back in December to which I was told that the majority would be concluded by the end of the winter, but now we’re in spring and this is when farmers really need their payments in order to pay bills and buy animal feed etc.
“These severe and continuing delays are very frustrating, because what may seem just administration errors or setbacks in Whitehall actually amount to loss of earnings and potentially livelihoods here in Cornwall.
“The window to submit claims for 2016 is fast approaching, yet farmers are still waiting for their 2015 payments.
“I intend to make my full concern and frustration known to the Government, and I will be asking that any farmer who has incurred interest charges or penalties from their bank as a result of delays to be fully recompensed.”