Government agency faces bonus ban over late payments

A COMMONS committee is demanding a ban on bonuses to ‘punish’ civil servants responsible for the continued inability of the Rural Payments Agency to hand over subsidies required by the Common Agricultural Policy to farmers on time.

MPs ARE calling for the ban until they have significantly improved its performance in a move that would set a precedent that will alarm the accounting officers of government departments and agencies who are held responsible for performance.

The unprecedented move by from the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is in protest at the way farmers are continuing to be paid late.

In a hard-hitting letter to environment minister Caroline Spelman, the EFRA Committee warned the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that farmers are still suffering as a result of persistent administrative failures.

An earlier NAO report accused the agency of “scant regard for protecting public money after incurring £680m in unforeseen costs on top of £350m for IT systems. It has incurred “fines” from the European Commission for failing to meet deadlines for making payments.

Committee chair Anne McIntosh said: “Many MPs continue to hear harrowing stories of the hardship caused to farmers by late payment from the RPA.”

In a letter to DEFRA on behalf of the committee, she complained that when Mark Grimshaw, former head of the ill-fated Child Support Agency and now RPA chief executive, gave evidence to the committee he “was unable to give us an assurance that there would be no performance bonuses for RPA staff in respect of 2009-10”.

She wrote: “The committee seeks the department’s undertaking that money will not be available for performance bonuses for RPA staff involved in SPS payments until there is clear and independently audited evidence of the agency achieving very significant performance improvements.”

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