Report published 10 February 2017. Government response published 28 March 2017.
Scope of the inquiry
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Delivery Programme is a combined effort between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rural Payments Agency, Government Digital Service and other bodies to develop new systems and processes to support the implementation of the CAP in England. It was established in 2012 to address failings in how it was previously delivered and to adapt to the increased complexity of the new CAP.
The original vision and design of the Programme was narrow, focussing largely on procuring IT systems, and was set back by numerous changes in leadership. In March 2015, in response to serious failings of the system, the online application system was withdrawn and replaced by "paper-assisted digital" applications for the 2015 scheme. Despite these challenges, the Department is making progress to meeting its target of paying Basic Payment Scheme claims for the majority of farmers in December.
This inquiry examines the significant challenges that remain to make sure this year's payments are accurate, to prepare for future years, to maximise Programme benefits and minimise disallowance penalties.
This inquiry follows on from the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into this issue in March 2016. In our report earlier this year, we recommended that the Department should set out clear milestones, by the end of June 2016, for when it expects to pay farmers for future years and when it will return to previous performance levels.
The Committee also recommended that for this and future programmes, the Department should establish a clear and enduring vision based on expected programme benefits, together with clear milestones and priorities that can remain in place regardless of changes in leadership. The Cabinet Office, through its GDS, should also comprehensively assess departments' capabilities to deliver any changes it imposes and ensure that it provides an appropriate level of support for those changes.
The failure of the Department, the RPA and GDS to work together effectively resulted in serious detriment to the Programme and Members were keen that the Department should review its approach to tackling serious failures of management and put in place measures to stop this ever happening again.
The Department needed, as a matter of urgency, to explain and justify what it considered to be an appropriate target level of financial penalties from the European Commission, how it would achieve it and how it would monitor progress towards it. It was also thought necessary that HM Treasury should set out the mechanisms in place from 2016–17 to demonstrate that they are providing the budgetary incentives needed for the Department to do as much as possible to reduce disallowance penalties.