The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has offered producer organisations that failed its latest review of the EU Fruit & Vegetable Scheme a chance to get back into it.
It announced this week that 17 of the 39 producer organisations reviewed failed this year's audit. But these 17 have not, as initially feared by the industry, been permanently derecognised.
Rather, they have been "suspended" and have a year from the date of suspension (10 August 2011) in which to "meet the required criteria".
It added that suspended organisations can continue to operate their existing programme, although they will not receive payments during the suspension period.
They will, however, accrue the right to aid during this time and may be eligible for that aid if they are later found to have met the criteria.
RPA operations director Paul Caldwell said: "Our aim throughout this review has been to support producer organisations by providing greater clarity for the industry on the criteria they need to meet and the evidence they must provide to maintain recognition under the scheme.
"Our priority is to continue to work with the NFU and the industry to ensure the effective operation of the scheme."
The agency has encouraged all suspended producer organisations to arrange face-to-face meetings with RPA members in Newcastle to discuss what they need to do to be able to demonstrate that they have achieved the required criteria.
The RPA also reported that payments to the 22 producer organisations that met the recognition criteria were being made and should be completed on time. It also announced that:
- It will not recover from producer organisations any payments already made for previous years.
- 2010 payments currently held pending the outcome of the review will be released as soon as possible.
- Any producer organisation that fails to implement all remedial actions by 9 August 2012 will face withdrawal of RPA recognition and lose the right to aid.
Suspended producer organisations - Mixed responses to agency's review
Producer organisations welcomed the reprieve but some remain confused about why they were suspended and harbour doubts about the Rural Payment Agency's (RPA) understanding the scheme.
Aga Danila, chief executive officer at Northern Mushrooms, one of the suspended producer organisations, said: "We do not have a problem conforming to the rules providing that we know what they are.
"But this is a much more positive position that the RPA has taken. We are delighted that we have got this logjam moved a bit and we are hopefully now going to get the £440,000 we are owed from last year."
Keven Brooks, financial controller of the suspended Fruitlink producer organisation, added: "We asked the RPA to clarify some points in its letter because we believed they were incorrect, but they have refused.
"How can we discuss this with them if we do not have a full understanding of what they are asking us to do?"