The “dysfunctional” relationship between three U.K. government bodies charged with reforming the way European Union subsidies are channeled to farmers led to delayed payments and may end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, a panel of lawmakers said.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rural Payments Agency and the Government Digital Service were unable to work together effectively, leading to disruptions and delay in delivering a single computerized system for processing the payments, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said in a report published Wednesday. Managers proffered explanations including “we worked on different floors” and “we dressed differently,” according to the cross-party panel.
“The enduring mental image is of managers, having seemingly lost sight of the purpose of the project, devoting their energies to a childish turf war instead,” said Chairwoman Meg Hillier. “If the department is to build trust in this program and other projects it first needs to rebuild trust with farmers.”
The cost of the program ballooned to 215 million pounds ($300 million) from 155 million pounds, according to the committee. It recommended that Defra should set out clear milestones for when it expects to pay farmers, pointing out that 38 percent of farmers were given payments on Dec. 1, the first day possible, compared with more than 90 percent in previous years.
Setting up a new computer system to deal with the new EU Common Agricultural Policy was a “significant challenge,” but “the collective focus has always remained on getting payments out to farmers as quickly as possible,” Defra said in an e-mailed statement. “Almost all farmers will be paid by the end of this month and the Rural Payments system has been further improved for 2016 to make it easier for farmers to apply for CAP payments.”