A letter by Farm Minister George Eustice praising the Rural Payments Agency is strangely at odds with news on the ground, says West Somerset Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger
As you might have come to realise, I rarely take round-robin letters at face value, which is certainly the case when it comes to your 'Dear Colleague' missive of last week singing the praises of the Rural Payments Agency.
I don't know who the author was but it was propaganda of unparalleled ingenuity.
I particularly enjoyed the phrase: "Over the last two years the RPA has worked hard to establish itself as a trusted, efficient, and value-for-money delivery organisation".
Well I dare say it has worked hard. Trouble is, as far as many, many farmers are concerned, while it's done the work it hasn't achieved the goal. They still view it as an untrustworthy, inefficient and grossly expensive.
As to the fact that getting Single Payments out on time to 95,600 farmers represents "excellent news", I'm sure it does. On the other hand it's only what people should have the right to expect from a properly-run government organisation. It is no cause for self-congratulatory back-slapping. I know the RPA has been a broken-winded, knock-kneed wreck of an agency almost from its inception but just because it's finally starting to do the job is no excuse to start popping metaphorical corks.
And what I am more concerned about is the deluge – there is no other word, George – of complaints I am getting from farmers who haven't been paid, who are still dealing with a bunch of uncomprehending numbskulls on the end of so-called "helplines" trying to sort out niggling, and quite frankly footling obstacles to their payments being released, often in situations which are not of their making, such as "mapping errors" down to the RPA's own maps.
And what also gets up their nose is the peremptory manner in which they are so often dealt with: given a deadline of a few days to respond with information, only to be told they will have to wait a month when they ask for information in return.
I know there are problems elsewhere: did you see how 350,000 French farmers actually got paid the Single Payment twice last week? Fortunately the authorities noticed and managed to claw back the 4.2 billion euros before it was spent on pastis and red wine.
But to send out a letter like this is tantamount to Ford proudly announcing that if you put its cars into first gear, drop the clutch and apply the accelerator they move forwards.
Get my drift? Please, let's have no more of it.