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Payments to struggling farmers must not be cut, warns North Yorkshire MP
PAYMENTS to struggling farmers must not be cut further while their incomes are falling, a committee of MPs warns today (Tuesday).
The Government is urged to shelve plans to switch more Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) cash from direct payments to rewarding environmental care.
Ministers plan to increase the current rate of transfer from so-called Pillar 1 of CAP to Pillar II from nine per cent to 15 per cent.
But today’s report by the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee says that will hurt “vulnerable” farmers earning as little as £8,000 a year.
Anne McIntosh, the Thirsk and Malton MP, and the committee’s chairwoman, said the threatened change came against a “background where farm incomes are falling”.
She added: “Cutting payments to these businesses will reduce their ability to compete in the marketplace and leave farmers less able to invest in vital infrastructure.
“It may make them more vulnerable to shocks such as poor weather, higher input costs and price variations.
“We recommend that the Government maintains the current nine per cent rate of transfer away from the direct payment budget.
“This rate of transfer should rise to 15 per cent in 2017 only if it can demonstrate that additional funds are required and that this change will deliver a clear benefit.”
The Government has come under fire for its negotiating of Pillar II funding, which saw the UK’s allocation fall, while handouts to France and Italy rose.
That means Pillar II spending in England would be 27 per cent lower by 2020, with the planned switch from Pillar 1.
Today’s report also urges the Government to:
- Use an “active farmer test” to ensure EU subsidies go only to people who “actually and actively run a farm business”
- Ensure farmers can also apply, and receive complicated guidance, “on paper” – despite a “digital by default” strategy.
Miss McIntosh added: “Farmers know from bitter past experience that the development of the new IT system will be a stand-out challenge for Government.
“A lot went wrong in the last round of changes, and these problems gave rise to £580m in penalties.
“With that in mind, we question whether it makes sense to introduce a new computer system at the same time as complex new payment rules.”
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