It is probably an extreme irony that Theresa May has dumped leadership rival Andrea Leadsom right in the slurry with the job at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(Defra)
For the Eurosceptic Brexiteer is going to have to eat a lot of humble pie and hand over more money than any other minister to the European Commission long after the United Kingdom has quit the European Union.
Her appointment coincided with the latest accounts from Defra with a caustic comment from the National Audit Office once again qualifying them because of their incompetence in handing out £2.3 billion of subsidies to British farmers.
But this rap on the knuckles means more than that – as it sets up the UK to have to pay a fortune in fines to the EU. I have written about it in Tribune here.
As the article reports:”Failures under Labour and coalition governments to administer properly a previous farm subsidy programme have already led the Commission to fine the UK £661m.
“But this year’s failure to deliver money to farmers on time – with well over half receiving late payments – has already led to over £65m being set aside for fines in the last financial year.”
As Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The Department continues to struggle with managing the complex CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) scheme in a way that ensures accurate, timely payments to farmers. As a result, it has incurred EU penalties of £65.8 million related to the CAP scheme in 2015-16, and estimates that it owes 13,000 farmers a total of at least £25.3 million.
“Exit from the European Union will not, in the short term, reduce these penalties. The Department therefore needs to ensure its strategy for tackling these challenges is effective.”
This means that Leadsom and her Eurosceptic farming minister, George Eustice, are going to face a double task until 2020.
First they are going to have to continue sorting out the ministry’s failure to pay farmers on time while having to devise a national British system of supporting farmers which is bound to be controversial.
The NAO are estimating that if anything the level of fines could go up because of the complexities of the payments.
The ministry is promising a new strategy to sort out the problem – saying it expects payments to be better in 2016 than last year. But to do this it has – already according to the accounts – incurred a £6m increase in its pay bill by having to employ temporary staff to sort out computer failures and mistakes and delays in payments to farmers.
It is going to more than of just passing interest to see how the pair cope with such a mess.