MPs criticise “eleventh hour” digital U-turn for farmer subsidies

MPs from the House of Commons Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee criticise the “eleventh hour” decision to revert to paper forms for farmers claiming EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies.

Following multiple issues with the £154 million IT system, subsidy claims will now have to be made via paper applications, the committee has issued its immediate findings and reactions in a parliamentary report.

The report states that concerns were previously raised, as early as 2013 and as recently as last month, that the contingency plans put in place by Defra were inadequate to deal with IT problems and a lack of rural broadband coverage.

The committee say the decision to revert from a digital solution was a “sudden and surprising U-turn”, as assurances were given less than a fortnight before the decision was announced that an effective plan was in place to ensure all claims were processed online by mid-May.

According to the committee’s findings:  “allowing farmers to use tried and tested paper systems is a welcome suspension of the digital-by-default approach and a return to a common sense approach but the decision is late in the day.”

Additionally, the committee expressed concern that Defra appears not to have learnt from previous IT failures, for example in 2006 when severe problems with the IT systems resulted in costs and fines approaching £600 million.

It concluded that following the decision, Defra must ensure that the paper systems are “implemented in a timely manner, to ensure accuracy in claims and minimise the risk to farmers’ incomes and to the public purse from EU disallowance fines for inaccurate or delayed claims.

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