CLA: ‘We should be wary of normalising bridging payments’

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) as welcomed the announcement that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will begin making bridging payments for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) 2018.

However, they urged that bridging payments should be the exception rather than the rule.

Payments will begin from Friday, April 12, and will cover the BPS 2018 claims and the advance payments for the CS programme.

According to the CLA, the RPA has processed 99% of the BPS claims and 95% of the CS payments for 2018.

While many farmers will be pleased to see a marked improvement on last year’s performance, and relieved to hear that payment is on its way, we should be wary of normalising them. Bridging payments should never be preferable to a full payment in a timely manner.

Speaking on the announcement, Susan Twining, the CLA’s chief land use policy advisor, said: “As well as the additional administrative burden for all involved, bridging payments add stress and worries for farmers already facing significant uncertainties with regards to the future.

“This is, no doubt, exacerbated by the fiasco last year which has seriously eroded trust in the scheme. For these reasons, we believe that if they have to be used, then they should be triggered in January, limiting uncertainty and enabling the RPA and others to work towards a common sense target,” she added.

These sentiments echo the points made by the Tenant Farmers’ Association, which welcomed the “significant improvement” of the RPA, but argued that the agency was “overly reliant” on bridging payments.

“While we welcome these bridging payments, the TFA is concerned that the RPA is becoming more dependent on using the bridging payment mechanism as a regular method to enable payments, rather than getting to the root cause of the issues that are delaying them,” said Lynette Steel, policy advisor for the TFA.

She added: “The TFA is calling for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take immediate action to restore farmer’s confidence in these schemes.”