In the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 14 July, Official Report, columns 40-44WS, she explained that the Rural Payments Agency business plan for 2011-12 would be updated when the agency’s strategic improvement plan (SIP) was finalised. Work on constructing that plan is progressing well and the new RPA management team are already taking forward some components. However, as there may be public expenditure implications, it has been necessary to factor in additional time for scrutiny and approvals processes before the plan can be finalised. Consequently, my expectation is that the SIP will now be ready for publication in the first quarter of 2012.
In the meantime, the RPA oversight board, which I chair, has reviewed the existing indicator in the business plan for demonstrating that payments under the 2011 single payment scheme (SPS) are made in an accurate and cost-effective manner. In doing so, we have considered progress on both 2011 scheme processing and work to address legacy errors. In line with my earlier statements, the agency has been undertaking corrective action on the remaining known legacy data problems alongside the processing of 2011 SPS claims. I am pleased to say that that corrective work on the known error cases remains on track to be completed by the end of the payment window on 30 June 2012, with further analysis planned on potential cases. Outstanding top-up payments have already been completed in respect of 2010 claims and are significantly advanced in respect of long-standing requests raised by claimants relating to earlier scheme year claims.
Against that background the oversight board has agreed the following additional indicators for 2011 SPS:
by the end of December 2011 to have paid a minimum of 86% of eligible claimants and 78% of the total estimated value;
by the end of March 2012 to have paid a minimum of 95% of both the eligible claimants and the total estimated value.
These indicators reflect a change in the focus of the agency’s efforts towards processing the more difficult cases at an earlier stage, which is expected to increase the value of payments made at the beginning of the payment window while maintaining performance on the numbers of claimants paid in that period. Each individual indicator betters or matches performance under any previous scheme year while both reducing, rather than adding to, legacy problems and operating with a much-reduced budget. That represents a stride forward for the agency but, as I discussed with leaders of farming representative bodies last week, there remains some distance to go before I could be happy that farmers are receiving the service they deserve. I am clear that further strides towards that goal must be made in the indicators that are set for subsequent years and that communications with farmers who are not paid early in the window must be improved now. I know the RPA chief executive has heard the clear message from farm leaders on the latter point and will ensure steps are taken to address it over the coming months.
I will continue to keep the House informed on the agency’s progress.