No surprises so far, then. No sooner have I logged on to register for the basic payment scheme (BPS) using the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) digital online service than I learn that “it could be shut down for up to five days” and that I will be updated “when it’s available again.”
It took a decade for the RPA to learn how to administer the dynamic hybrid single farm payment (SFP). So why should I be surprised that I have immediately run into teething problems with the new BPS? The UK government was eventually fined hundreds of millions of pounds by the European Union for the maladministration of the SFP. Things did gradually improve from 2005 through to 2014 but who can blame me for being wary about how things are likely to work out this time with a new subsidy scheme?
While that is all true and rather depressing, I’ve never been able to work up a convincing head of steam about the RPA’s poor administration of the SFP. Some years I’ve had to wait so long for my SFP to arrive that I got close to my farm borrowing limits. But even then my grumbling was muted.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly any farmer instinctively knows never to bite the hand that feeds. It was also hard to get properly ratty with the RPA when the staff there were always so apologetic and did whatever they could to help. Even more importantly, although they were called SFP “entitlements,” I was never entirely able to entirely convince myself that I was deserving of this money.
Under the old integrated administration and control system, I had no trouble at all blowing my top at the first sign of any bureaucratic inefficiency surrounding delivery of my suckler cow premium, arable area aid or special sheep premium. “After all,” I said to myself, “I’ve had to work hard to produce all that food so how dare the government hold up my subsidy payments because of some small misdemeanour on my part or administrative cock-up on theirs.” By contrast, the SFP always seemed like money for old rope given that the only condition attached to it was that I must not spoil the productive potential of my land.
Sure, I’ve needed the SFP money and now show every sign of needing the BPS money even more (given the recent two year downward trend in farm gate arable commodity prices). And, yes, like my 86,999 English farming peers I’m currently enduring the “slow loading of screens,” the “missing information” and the excess of “decimal places presented when adding the size of a land use or land feature to a land parcel” that are all currently features of the RPA online portal as we all try to register for the BPS.
But, no matter how many hours, days, weeks or months it takes me to register for my BPS entitlements, don’t expect me to get properly angry about it.