March 29, 2007 / 4:37 AM / 13 years ago

Beckett slammed over farm payments

A video grab shows Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, flanked by Defence Secretary Des Browne delivering a speech to the House of Commons, March 28, 2007. REUTERS/Parbul

LONDON (Reuters) - A parliamentary committee has called for former farms minister Margaret Beckett to be called to account for what it described as the “fiasco” over the implementation of a new scheme for paying farmers.

It described the way the scheme was handled under Beckett, who has since been promoted to Foreign Secretary, as a “catastrophe” and a “serious and embarrassing failure” for the farm ministry Defra.

The botched running of the Single Payment Scheme cost English farmers between 18 and 22.5 million pounds, and could leave the country with up to 305 million pounds in European Commission fines, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said on Thursday.

“This represented a fundamental failure by Defra to carry out one of its prime tasks, namely to pay farmers their financial entitlements on time,” the committee’s report said.

The single farm payment scheme, which was introduced in January 2005 as part of a series of European Union agricultural reforms, replaced production-linked farm subsidies.

The English scheme was administered by the Rural Payments Agency, part of Defra and formerly headed by Beckett.

“A culture where ministers and senior officials can preside over failure of this magnitude and not be held personally accountable creates a serious risk of further failures in public service delivery,” said the committee, headed by MP Michael Jack.

The Conservatives added their own criticism.

“The fact that Margaret Beckett was rewarded for her incompetence by promotion to the Foreign Office says a great deal about the government’s contempt not only for accountability but for the farming community,” its agriculture spokesman Jim Paice said in a statement.

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