Staffing levels at the Welsh Government’s Rural Payments Team have been cut by 26% in recent years, contributing to issues in the delivery of Basic Payments for Welsh farmers.
The claims follow the publication of an FOI request made by Welsh Conservative AM, Janet Finch-Saunders.
Since 2007, the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff at the Rural Payments Wales team has fallen by 127.1 – or by 26%.
Mrs Finch-Saunders said staffing cuts could be affecting capacity at a Welsh Government level, partly explaining ongoing issues with the Basic Payments Scheme.
On the 28th June, the Welsh Government confirmed (to Members Research Service, National Assembly – see Notes) that 184 farmers in Wales are yet to receive any payments under the Basic Payment Scheme. With a further 136 farmers yet to receive their second instalment.
Aberconwy AM, Janet Finch-Saunders, has raised concerns that the late payments were causing “a great deal of stress and anxiety”.
“The Welsh Government’s failure to get a handle on the delivery of the Basic Payment Scheme has caused a great deal of stress and uncertainty for farmers across Wales, many of whom still await vital payments.
“Farmers, like any other business, have bills to pay and the Welsh Government has a duty to ensure that these payments are properly administered.
“These findings highlight a significant reduction in staff numbers in the Rural Payments Wales team in recent years, which partly explain the growing capacity issues at the heart of the Welsh Government.
“Delays in Basic Payments are pushing some rural businesses to the brink, with devastating consequences.
“Whilst Brexit will consume a great deal of the new Cabinet secretary’s energy in the coming months, she cannot take her eye off the immediate day-to-day concerns of rural communities and it’s clear that urgent action is required to address concerns over the administration of this scheme.”
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Paul Davies, said:
“Britain’s decision to vote to leave the EU presents us with an opportunity to re-imagine the kind of support that we offer farmers, and we must take that chance.
“In recent years Welsh Labour’s failure to prioritise rural communities has shone through, and record-breaking cuts to the rural affairs budget have hit rural Wales hard.
“The new cabinet secretary now has a golden opportunity to repair that damage, and to prioritise farming support.
“It’s also vital that the Welsh Government rises to the challenges, as well as opportunities, posed by the outcome of the EU referendum.
“Brexit is a chance to re-imagine support for farmers; to think things through from first principle. If we are radical and think about things with a blank page, learning lessons from past experience, we can deliver a new suite of policies that deliver for rural Welsh communities.”