|· The withdrawal in England of the online Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) application system was leaked and then formally confirmed on the evening of 19 March
· On 24 March, Farming Minister George Eustice told the House of Commons that the digital-only BPS application policy was being dropped
· Paper-based applications will now be accepted with data being inputted onto the digital system by RPA staff and Defra volunteers
· Both Eustice and Secretary of State Liz Truss, speaking to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee on 25 March, explained that the core system works but that there is a ‘glitch’ on the mapping interface
· The EFRA Committee criticised Truss for not being ‘open’ with them at a previous meeting, and Mark Grimshaw, of the RPA, for not having a contingency plan
· At the same time, the EU is proposing to extend the BPS application deadline by a month until 15 June. The legislation should be passed on 22 April and is optional, but Truss says she will take it up for England once it has passed into EU law.
As we went to press in March, the RPA online subsidy application system crumbled. The alternative arrangements were to be announced on Friday 20 March but Elizabeth Truss leaked the decision on the Thursday evening, forcing the RPA to go public earlier than expected. Fortunately for the RPA, the Commission proposed earlier that week that it would permit countries to delay the deadline for applications until 15 June – although this is still not legally agreed and has to be approved by Council (EU country representatives) on 22 April.
Despite introducing a more radical change than England, Germany has announced that it will not need the extension, fearing it would delay payment.
While the RPA BPS online system has gone for this claim year, it will be resurrected for 2016. Ironically, by the time it was taken down many users had found that it worked well (when it was working) and certain features (e.g. the overlay of the Rural Land Registry (RLR)) map onto an aerial photograph to check boundaries, identify permanently ineligible features and measure hedges and ditches) were a worthwhile step forward. However, it is clear that the RPA were struggling to move data into, and possibly out of, SITI Farm (the software package underlying the application process) and the final attempt crashed the system, leaving little time and no clues as to how it could be resurrected.