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Another GDS cockup: Rural Payments Agency cans £154m IT system

Digi-gimps' blunder could lead to £400m EU fine

The Rural Payments Agency has frozen part of its new "digital" £154m Common Agricultural Payments IT system to provide EU subsidies to farmers and told them to go back to pen and paper.

The system was intended to allow farmers to confirm their fields were correctly allocated, using an online interface for the first time.

The RPA is now offering farmers and their agents paper forms to use in order to complete their claims by the extended June deadline. It will then manually input this data on to the system itself.

El Reg understands that the main issue was a problem with the new digital front-end failing to integrate with multiple back-end systems.

Yet the question remains as to whether the back end of the system is robust enough to handle the paper deluge, whether the agency has enough staff in place to handle the paper system, and how it intends to verify land without the online mapping system.

If the UK fails to meet the June deadline, it could face fines from the EU. Previously the department had to pay £400m due to incorrect payments caused by the IT system.

In a statement the department admitted "there have been performance problems with the online interface" that farmers and agents use.

RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw said: "The RPA will tomorrow (20th March) begin to email all farmers and agents who have already registered on the Rural Payments website to provide further detail on completing and submitting claims.

The programme appears to have been beset by problems from the beginning, with plans to initially identity farmers using the government's Verify system being abandoned in favour of a telephone system.

El Reg understands that the Government Digital Service was responsible for throwing out a small number of suppliers working on RPA instead and went for a 40-plus suppliers approach - focusing too much attention on the front end, and little attention to integration between front and back.

El Reg also understands that schemes by the Forestry Commission and Natural England were also supposed to be supported by the new system. ®

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