Producer organisations hit by delays again

Poor communication between the EU, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the producer organisations it pays is causing grief for growers again.

Growers are in a similar situation to last year, with delayed EU fruit and vegetables regime payments because of the RPA's decision to give itself an extension on the time in which it has to pay producer organisations.

It has done so to avoid being fined by the EU, whose auditors have expressed concerns that some producer organisations are not operating under its strict legal requirements.

One of the bones of contention that came out of the latest round of EU audits was the way in which producer organisations' marketing is carried out and by whom. They are supposed to make their own marketing decisions but auditors have shown this not to be the case in some instances. The RPA extended its payment deadline until Government ministers give it the green light to resume.

NFU board for horticulture and potatoes chairman Sarah Pettitt, who announced the decision in an NFU newsletter sent to members last Friday, said: "What this means in effect is that producer organisations are currently not being paid. There is a very risk-averse culture in Government departments and we believe this is why clearance is being sought from ministers.

"It will be for ministers to decide whether payments will be allowed to be made, based on their assessment of the risk of disallowance, and further fines.

"The NFU is extremely concerned about the impact of delaying payments. Producer organisations have applied for payments on time and have not been told anything is wrong. Accordingly, they should be entitled to expect their claims to be paid in a timely fashion. A delay in payments has significant cash-flow implications for producer organisations and their members, and if prolonged will further undermine confidence in the scheme."

All this is reminiscent of the situation a year ago when the RPA suspended its payments to producer organisations while it determined its policy on shared facilities. This followed a Court of First Instance judgement given to the French authorities, which lost their appeal against a multi-million-euro fine for failing to comply with the shared facilities rules.

It took the RPA six months to reinstate its producer organisation payments and a handful of producer organisations were permanently suspended for failing to comply with EU rules.

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