Government abandons failed £154m farm payment IT system for paper forms

Farmers will move back to paper forms to claim EU subsidy payments

The government has scrapped its £154m IT system that supports European Union subsidy payments for England’s farmers blaming “performance problems” with its online interface, and has moved back to paper-based payments.

V3 understands the problems stem from a lack of stability in the way the public-facing online interface interacts with the system’s back-end rules engine.

With the deadline looming for farmers to submit their Basic Payment Scheme subsidy claim, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Rural Payments Agency (RPA) had to establish an alternative way for farmers to make their claims.

The RPA is now asking for claim submissions to be made using existing paper forms. Information on the forms will then be inputted manually onto the RPA’s Common Agricultural Payments system.

Mark Grimshaw, RPA’s chief executive, suggested that negative feedback from farmers had prompted the agency to ditch the online interface of its IT system.

“Having listened to feedback, the RPA will now combine existing forms that farming businesses are used to, with data that the Rural Payments system already has,” he said.

“My priority is to ensure that every farmer and agent has the help they need to make their claims on time. Using tried-and-tested RPA forms will make this happen.”

Farmers will still need to register online first before beginning the paper-based claim process. The government reports that 80 percent of the farming businesses have done this successfully.

V3 has learned that moving back to paper forms will be much cheaper than continuing to run a system that has absorbed millions in investment but gained little support from the farming community.

Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) chief executive George Dunn blamed Defra for the failure of the system.

“Over past weeks TFA members have been expressing frustration, annoyance and anger over the faltering, stuttering and incomprehensible IT system that Defra delivered to the RPA,” he said.

“Despite the continuing assurances that the system would be fit for purpose, there has quite clearly been significant doubts within the RPA for a long time and I am only grateful to Mark Grimshaw, and his long-suffering staff for his ability to convince Defra to change its line from dogma to practicality.”

Digital dichotomy
The move would appear to be in stark contrast to the government’s ‘digital by default’ approach to public-sector services, championed by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and the Government Digital Service.

However, Labour welcomed the move, albeit in a gloating manner.

“It’s good that the government has finally accepted Labour’s call for a paper-based contingency but why has it taken them so long?” Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary said in a statement.

“We’ve known for weeks about the problems with the IT system while ministers were burying their heads in the sand and pretending everything was fine.

“They’ve finally admitted to their incompetence at the last minute and caused chaos and confusion for hardworking farmers. The government must now clearly explain what they’re doing to fix the IT system problems in the shortest time possible.”

The government will be looking to avoid similar situations with its government-as-a-platform ambitions, which aim to create a set of common components and standards that can be used across the public sector when creating new public services.

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20 March 2015 | 3:41 pm – Source: v3.co.uk

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