Richard Lochhead has provided a briefing to industry stakeholders setting out the state of play with regard to basic payments.
He had stated his intention was to make two payments with the first by the end of January. In the briefing he explained that, as many will know, this ambition had not been met. So far, of the approximately 18,000 expected recipients, 5328 have been paid, amounting to approximately £50M.
Mr Lochhead is now aiming to complete the first payment by the end of March.
The issues surround the pace of processing of applications. Payments cannot be made by the system until all discrepancies have been resolved and these need to be checked by people. The minor discrepancies are slowing the system down. Mr Lochhead maintains that he has confidence in the IT system, the issue, he says, is that it is not working fast enough.
In order to seek to make faster progress Mr Lochhead: has sought to ensure that IT support works round the clock and utilise overtime; is recruiting more staff; is allowing Area Offices to resolve claims without referring to Head Office; is prioritising hardship cases; and is meeting banks to discuss the ability of the banks to support the industry.
In addition, he has committed to ensuring regular updates for the industry with weekly updates available online and to the Parliament.
Other schemes, such as new entrants, will be processed manually with funding coming available from April.
Andrew Midgley, Head of Policy, said: “Many in the industry will find this news frustrating. While it is clear that officials in government are working very hard to make payments as soon as possible, and doing so in a year when we have a new CAP regime and a new IT system, what people on the ground need is a bit of certainty. They need to have confidence that payments will be made by a certain date because of very real and challenging cash flow issues. Mr Lochhead has given a new aspiration to get first payments out by the end of March and has committed to providing regular updates, which should hopefully give people a better insight into what is going on, but many farmers around the country will still feel like they are left in limbo”.