‘Digital by default’ agricultural payments halted: Farmers start smirking

Back with pen and paper then

On Friday its was revealed that the new "digital by default" payments system for Common Agricultural Payments has been put on ice, with farmers having to go back to a paper-based system.

Sources have told The Register that the system costs could have now escalated to £177m, with that figure likely to increase further.

The Government Digital Service (the Cabinet Office unit tasked with transforming the provision of government digital services) head Mike Bracken has long championed the new agile, digital approach by the Rural Payments Agency toward the system, and has worked "closely" with the department to deliver it.

Mike Bracken (having just returned from visiting the project in Reading) said in a GDS video update back in 2013:

I go weekly now. I go to the meeting of the Common Agricultural Policy Reform Group. It's the Rural Payments Agency. Why I'm so excited about that is because they've [sic] embraced agile completely. They're [sic] going with an agile build out of a whole new programme.

That's going to affect everyone in this country, and how they deal with land management, all the farmers, all the people who deal with crops, all the data.

It's going to create, I think, a data industry around some of that data. It's going to help us deal with Europe in a different way, and quite rightly we're building it as a platform. It's going to be another example of government as a platform.

I'm on the Board, and I'm trying to help them [sic] every week, and GDS will be working very closely with them [sic] to deliver that.

In a blog in December, Bracken also said "the old way of processing rural payments was largely paper based” and "we’re building services, not websites; I’m excited to see rural payments show the results of making things as simple as possible for users".

Unfortunately, it appears farmers have been less than happy with the "digital by default" approach for ages.

Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn told the Farmers' Guardian: "The TFA has always been opposed to the 'digital-by-default' dogma expressed by [the department for Environment and Rural Affairs]."

He continued: "Over the past two years we have had a string of correspondence with Defra underlining the need for paper-based applications to be allowed at least for the first year of the new [Basic Payments System]."

Well, at least with the new paper system they are responding to user needs. ®

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