NFU Cymru has written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM to call on Welsh Government to urgently commission an independent review of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) in Wales. The union states such a review should include the effectiveness and value for money of the range of advice services and wider RDP projects and measures.
The call comes in the light of Welsh Government’s ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ consultation proposals, which set out revised proposals for supporting farmers after Brexit and includes replacing the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Glastir with a Sustainable Farming Scheme. The proposed new scheme will comprise two elements – business support with a focus on advice, capital investment and skills development and the Sustainable Farming Payment which will reward farmers for the delivery of mainly environmental outcomes. An adviser-led approach to scheme implementation is proposed.
John Davies, NFU Cymru President said: “Through the course of extensive consultation with our members it is clear the proposed replacement mechanisms which, in effect, broadly replicate measures in the current RDP or Pillar 2 do not fill farmers with confidence.
“Our experience of Welsh Government’s implementation and delivery of the current RDP has not been positive. Up to the end of August 2019, RDP spend stands at just 41% for the programme period 2014-2020. The slow rate of roll-out means that Welsh farm businesses are not receiving the support promised at the time of the pillar transfer in 2013. Welsh Government, at that time, opted to transfer the maximum funds possible from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 – a decision unique across Europe and one that NFU Cymru was strongly opposed to. Based on Welsh Government performance, NFU Cymru’s opposition to the pillar transfer decision has been completely vindicated.
“Our members tell us opportunities to access RDP funds have been limited for farming businesses, application windows have been sporadic and often under-resourced with applicants turned away. The application and claim process has been complex and costly with many farmers having to resort to paying advisers and consultants to assist. These are implementation issues that are all firmly under the control of Welsh Government.
“Regrettably our members’ experiences of RDP implementation severely undermine confidence in Welsh Government’s proposals for the new scheme. 12 months ago, when responding to ‘Brexit and our Land’ proposals, we emphasised both Welsh Government and industry needed to have a high degree of confidence that proposed measures could be effective in mitigating for the shortfall left by the proposed loss of direct support. Full evaluation is required to understand impact and the cost benefit of increasing investment in such interventions.
“Whilst the Welsh Government consultation provides significant analysis on the case for ending BPS, the consultation is deeply flawed in that no objective analysis has been provided on the effectiveness of the current RDP and how similar measures can deliver in the absence of BPS. This is deeply concerning. We are clear that some form of stability support is a vital component of future policy to underpin the continued production of safe, high quality food in Wales for all the benefits that provides.”
Mr Davies concluded: “Under current Welsh Government proposals, the business support will be operating in the absence of BPS or any form of stability support mechanism. Welsh Government needs to demonstrate that the new package of measures proposed can match or better what is currently achieved – namely a return of around £7.40 for every £1 invested -otherwise jobs will be lost from farming and the allied industries and our rural communities will be poorer. This is a matter of serious concern and why we have called for a comprehensive review of RDP delivery as a matter of urgency.
“We encourage all farmers in Wales to have their voice heard by responding to the Welsh Government consultation which closes on 30th October 2019.”