Friday, March 23, 2007

Carnival of the Batshit #3

Now, Batshit is, as you might recall, supposed to be a Secretary of State, in charge of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Now, young Batshit has never commented on the Rural Payments Agency in anything other than rather cautious terms.

The last time that he mentioned anything specifically was back in May 2006, when he gave us the following gem.
My first policy meeting at Defra was on the Single Payments Scheme administered by the Rural Payments Agency. The Scheme aims to rationalise payments to farmers, and shift towards a land-based payment scale. £1.5 billion is involved - money coming back to us from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (itself no doubt the subject of many future blogs). It is clear that there have been significant problems with the new system and farmers are understandably furious that their payments have not arrived.

The thing is that it was not only the farmers that were furious: the EU was too. As such, that august organisation decided to fine the British government for not delivering the cash.
We already knew about the fine imposed on us by the EU for all that bungling at the dire Rural Payments Agency (see here and here), but the amount hadn't been fixed. In October we said:
"The late payment fine from the EU is so-far undecided but officially estimated by Defra at £131m—so let's say £250m."

Turns out even we were too optimistic- we've just learned the fine is now expected to be £305m, more than double what we were originally told last year.

So just to be clear—that's a fine imposed by the EU on us British taxpayers for the spectacular incompetence of our rulers. And if the EU says you're incompetent, then you really shouldn't be leaving the house alone.

Quite, and judging from the antics of the staff at the Rural Payments Agency, they should all be locked away and painlessly destroyed.
Four civil servants have been sacked and a further five disciplined after an investigation into claims that staff romped naked in their Tyneside office.

The antics are alleged to have taken place at the Newcastle office of the Rural Payments Agency in June.

Staff have also been accused of jumping naked from cabinets, holding dance competitions and having sex in toilets.

Managers said the allegations were "overblown" but that "inappropriate behaviour" had taken place.

The agency was set up to make payments to farmers from Euro subsidies - many thousands of whom have been left penniless because of a massive backlog.

The lurid claims, made by a whistleblower, also included allegations staff at the office vomited in cups and left them to fester in cupboards.

Bear in mind that, whilst the staff were fucking about and costing the British taxpayer £305 million in fines, many thousands of farmers were having to borrow money and pay huge rates of interest in order to keep themselves in business—those that didn't sell up or commit suicide, that is. And what did the Newcastle staff think of these increasingly desperate people?
Civil servants on Tyneside accused of romping naked at work and having sex in toilets are at the centre of a new row over an e-mail insulting farmers.

The message, leaked from the Newcastle office of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), branded farmers claiming subsidies as "crazy and unhinged".

The Agency condemned the e-mail and said it was written by an ex, temporary employee more than a year ago.

It goes without saying that I believe that we should not be paying subsidies to farmers but, given that we have promised to do so (indeed, are forced to do so under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)), we should honour those obligations. Call it a contract, if you will.

Luckily, Batshit has been making big progress, oh yes!
I travelled to Brussels yesterday to secure agreement for key UK objectives – flexibility for the use of voluntary modulation (shifting money from payments according to the amount of land in Pillar 1 of the CAP to payments for deliver mainly of environmental goods like land management under the Entry and Higher Level Schemes) across the UK and flexibility over the ‘franchise’ (starting level of modulation).

The unanimous agreement among the 27 countries of a mechanism to deliver this flexibility for the UK (and Portugal) means that subject to confirmation from the European Parliament on Wednesday that they are happy with the position we can proceed to finalise our programme and get the money out to rural areas.

More "flexibility"? Sounds like more complications to me and, given that the RPA staff seem to be too busy holding breakdancing competitions and fucking each other in the urinals, can we really believe that another massive fine is not on its way?
I have said that we will use the ability to modulate funding, but below the 20% maximum level; that there will be significant co-financing (matching European money with UK money); and that we will publish the details of our decision soon.

Now, as I understand it, under the terms of our rebate (which Blair happily gave away in its majority last year) we are forced to co-finance the CAP payments: indeed, if Private Eye is to be believed, we must match the EU financing pound for pound. So hardly a breakthrough there.

Still, never mind; Batshit really is pouring his little heart and soul into the whole DEFRA thing; last December, he worked out a savings plan!
Banging on about better regulation can bring out yawns - or worse - but the plan published by Defra will deliver administrative savings of over 150 million pounds a year by 2010.

So, by 2010, DEFRA will have saved £150 million: I am massively impressed.

Or I would be, if the EU's fine for DEFRA's incompetance had not cost double that in just one year. Dear oh dear, Davey: what are you going to do?

What I find most hilarious is that people are tipping this fucking chimp to run (and win) against Gordon Brown. A case of the half-blind, economic ignoramous leading the myopic, incompetent slime-ball there, I think...

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