Government ploughs ahead with troubled £154m farm payments IT system

Farmers will be able to apply online for subsidy payments in 2016

The government remains committed to the £154m farm subsidy payments system that it was forced to suspend earlier this year and will allow farmers to submit Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications via an online portal form 2016.

In sticking to its guns, the government will need to make sure that its second shot at the online side of the system is robust and easy to use for farmers who may lack experience of digital tools, otherwise a significant chunk of money will be wasted.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Rural Payments Agency (RPA) was forced in March to freeze development of the system after performance problems plagued the customer-facing portal and forced a return to paper forms.

But RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw revealed that the system’s front-end portal will be up and running next year following redevelopment work by the agency.

Grimshaw explained during a meeting with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee addressing the Common Agricultural Policy that the RPA has not abandoned its IT system and will reintroduce online capabilities next year as a stepping stone before further digital elements are introduced in 2017.

“The portal is complete now but we haven’t released all of the functionality that we were originally building, so customers can go onto rural payment today and look at their account,” he said.

“The likelihood is that there will be an online application capability for 2016. So [the system] wasn’t throw away. We simply suspended the development of online application capability and the online map editing function.”

The committee said that freezing the system’s online capabilities will not have yielded the savings that the multi-million pound system was predicted to generate.

But Grimshaw explained that the budget was for a 10-year programme and still has eight years during which Defra and the RPA can pursue the advantages of a digital system over manual data entry.

He did concede that the RPA will not make any of the savings predicted for this year owing to the need to introduce a paper-based contingency plan after problems were reported with the digital system.

Rather than pursue the Government Digital Service (GDS) mantra of “digital by default”, Grimshaw said that the RPA will look at “digital by design, practical by application”, which will allow farmers to choose whether they use the online services or paper forms to submit subsidy applications.

However, Grimshaw said that the RPA will heavily promote the use of online services over traditional application forms.

Building a custom IT system appears to be at odds with the government-as-a-platform ambitions set out by GDS, which aim to create common components that can be used across government to create digital public services.

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18 September 2015 | 1:34 pm – Source: v3.co.uk

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