George Eustice may believe that commoners have received their BPS 2015, but this isn't the case

It was reported in the Cumberland News that George Eustice, Minister of State, Defra told the audience at the Northern Farmer Conference in Hexham, last week that as far as he was aware all commoners had now received their 2015 farm payments. We know that this is not true, but then he may have been misreported.

Today I sent him the following e-mail and I will post his response when I receive it. 

Dear Mr Eustice,

Payment of Basic Payment Scheme on Common Land: 2015 Claims

I was surprised and concerned by the report in the Cumberland News where you apparently said at the Northern Farming Conference last Wednesday (9th November) that as far as you were aware all commoners had now received their 2015 farm payments.

I have been told by Will Cockbain that on November 1st he informed you this was far from the case. He noted that while the vast majority of commoners may have received some element of their BPS 2015, the payment was neither a full payment, nor accurate. He asked Julia Aglionby (one of our committee member as well as the Executive Director of  the Foundation for Common Land) to pass on a number of cases to Megan Smith your Private Secretary, which she did.

Given that it is highly unlikely these commoners were paid the correct sums owed to them in the period between the 3rd and 9th November, please can you explain why you made this statement to the farmers attending the conference? Or if you were misreported then you may wish to ask the Cumberland News to correct the report and provide information on how many commoners are waiting for their full and correct BPS 2015.

We all know that the implementation of BPS 2015 has been very challenging for RPA and we have some sympathy for RPA staff trying to administer a complex scheme.  However, we believe that truth and transparency at this late stage would have been more helpful than a disingenuous comment to an audience of farmers. The word gets round.

We now hear that RPA is planning to defer the work to properly pay commoners for BPS 2015 payments until after 90% BPS 2016 payments are made.  This proposal is unfair and unacceptable. In effect it is asking commoners who manage our most valued land (for example 45% of the Lake District is common land) on the nation’s behalf to bear the cost of failure in a government system. These are hill farmers with vulnerable businesses and can least afford to do so.

If RPA does not have the capacity to resolve the issue of BPS 2015 payments to commoners before Christmas then we ask that emergency payments are made to top up the 2015 bridging payments and that all commoners are made a bridging payment for 2016 if they are not in the 90% of customers being paid in December.

I will be sending a copy of this letter to our Cumbrian MPs, who have been very supportive and helpful in trying to get these issues resolved.

Yours sincerely,

Viv Lewis