NFU Cymru has again called for a full independent review of the Rural Development Programme in Wales, following the publication of a Wales Audit Office report today (Tuesday 30th June) which found applications for funding were invited from selected bodies without robust justification.
The Auditor General for Wales found that £68m of rural development funds had been allocated by Welsh Government through direct applications, where Welsh Government had invited known individuals or organisations to apply without competition.
The Wales Audit Office (WAO) reviewed a sample of the largest direct applications to see if, in the absence of competition, Welsh Government had taken appropriate alternative measures to secure value for money. WAO found that for £28m of these grant awards – Welsh Government had not.
WAO also found that £62m of funds had been given to existing projects. WAO examined £30m of these additional funds and for £25m they found that Welsh Government could not provide any evidence that they had considered project success to date or any other measures to ensure value for money.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “The WAO report is the latest in a long line of concerns that we have held around the governance and implementation of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) in Wales.
“In the context of the maximum rate of Pillar Transfer from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 in 2014, the RDP is more important to farmers than elsewhere and NFU Cymru has consistently called for far greater strategic oversight of RDP funding as a result.
“The latest report from WAO reinforces our view that Welsh farmers have been placed at a competitive disadvantage as a result of the Pillar Transfer decision through Welsh Government’s failure to implement an effective RDP programme for farmers, the slow rate of spend and now, we see, through not taking adequate steps to ensure value for money.
“As a result, NFU Cymru is again calling for Welsh Government to urgently commission an independent review of the RDP in Wales to include the effectiveness and value for money of RDP projects and measures.
“It is vital that this takes place given that Welsh Government’s proposals for future agricultural policy broadly replicate measures in the current RDP or Pillar 2. This does not inspire farmers with confidence. We have logged a catalogue of concerns around RDP implementation with the WAO in their 2017 value for money review, including the level of ambition for the RDP, the slow rate of RDP implementation, the design of measures such as Farming Connect or the Sustainable Management Scheme, the reluctance to innovate, the bureaucracy of the application process, the sporadic nature of application windows and the funding allocation to those windows.”
Mr Davies added: “NFU Cymru is also calling on Welsh Government to set out its plan on how the remaining £163m of uncommitted funds can be repurposed and redeployed to support farming’s Covid-19 recovery. We have again written to Welsh Government highlighting the important role that Wales RDP can play in supporting the farming industry through the Covid-19 pandemic through repurposing and redeploying of funds. This includes asking Welsh Government to urgently consider the implementation of the Covid-19 measure which will allow EU member states to make a lump sum payment of €7,000 as part of a package of measures to support farming’s recovery.”