CSS “badly managed”

The Countryside Stewardship scheme was described as “badly managed, under-resourced and ineptly designed” by the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee of the House of Commons at its inquiry on the 21st March

During robust exchanges with the EFRA Committee, Guy Thompson – Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Natural England (NE) – admitted that the scheme has got off to “an imperfect start” with “volumes that are still relatively low”.

Countryside Stewardship Scheme take-up

New agreements

15/16

16/17

17/18*

Mid-Tier

1,894

3,804*

4,000

Higher Tier

459

646*

735

Hedgerows and Boundary

0

782*

1,000

Existing agreements
Mid-Tier

0

1,894

5,594

Higher Tier

0

689

Hedgerows and Boundary

0

782

1,500

*estimated/predicted – Sources: EFRA Committee

Thompson defended NE’s ‘imperfect’ performance by blaming the onerous requirements of the EU but did not blame the RPA payment systems. But this did not satisfy Neil Parish, the Committee Chair “We are not entirely stupid in this committee. We know that the system is not working”. The Operations Director of the RPA, Jo Broomfield, was pressed to explain what the problem was with the mapping. After many minutes of prevarication, during which Parish said he might “explode”, Broomfield eventually recognised that “errors do occur in the mapping process. We need to continue to improve that”.

One aspect that came up time and again in the questioning of Broomfield was that the RPA lacked the resource to both meet the 90% BPS target and pay agri-environment schemes on time. Payments were prioritised and ‘sequenced’ so that BPS was paid first, Environmental Stewardship (ES) second, and the CSS was an afterthought at third.

Having blamed the EU for the RPA’s poor performance, the NE COO said that post-Brexit he would scrap the computer system and run a ‘light touch’ payment by results scheme.

No doubt that will solve all the RPA’s problems.