The Common Agricultural Policy reform has been rumbling forward with more detail dripping through on a daily basis.
With the basic structure of the scheme confirmed – the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) combined with a Greening element – attention now turns to some of the finer details. In particular, the Digital by Default policy which is currently being debated in the House of Commons.
This refers to the move away from paper applications to having a system which revolves entirely around an online-based scheme.
Many of us who have the ability, equipment and inclination already use the online services. For others it is impractical or even impossible to access an online system from the remote rural locations that farming often offers.
The Basic Payment will account for a large proportion of many farming businesses trading income. I am not sure how comfortable many of our clients will be about completing this on the old farm office computer with hit-and-miss broadband connection!
There has also been an indication of an on-line only mapping system rather than the traditional pen and paper approach.
Another factor which will further disadvantage farmers in rurally challenged areas. We really need to be aware of the extra difficulties and pressure this will put on farmers, especially in the first year.
During the debate, Farming Minister George Eustice came under fire for the Digital by Default approach. Defending the policy, Eustice cited the £750million investment planned by Government in the Broadband Delivery UK scheme. This is a scheme designed to provide broadband to rural areas throughout the country. Furthermore, digital service centres will become available to those in the worst areas to help claimants with their application.
The Broadband Scheme sounds great, but is it likely that this will be in place for the 2015 BPS application – unlikely? The approach seems fairly narrow minded and it will be interesting to see what level of penalties are applied when people struggle to get up to speed on the new system in the first few years.
Unfortunately it is a rather gloomy picture to date of a scheme which is more expensive to administer, more complicated to apply for and with possibly less money at the end of the day.
George F White advise that farmers speak to their local MP and professional advisors to ascertain whether Digital by Default may be an issue for them.