A damning report on Wales’ Rural Development Programme (RDP) by Audit Wales has highlighted long-standing concerns raised repeatedly by the Farmers’ Union of Wales.
The Audit Wales Ensuring Value for Money from Rural Development Grants Made Without Competition Report, published today (June 30), says key aspects of the design, operation and oversight of the Welsh Government’s Rural Development fund were not effective enough to ensure £53 million of grant awards would deliver value for money, and that the Welsh Government had adopted an approach of granting funds without competition and, in some cases, without taking any alternative steps to ensure the projects would deliver value for money.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Welsh farmers pay the highest percentage of money possible into the RDP pot through a process called pillar transfer, totalling around £40 million a year, whereas in most EU countries and regions farmers pay a tiny fraction of this figure.
“When it was announced in 2013 that Wales would have the maximum 15% pillar transfer rate - the highest in the EU - we were promised an RDP that would in return deliver transformational change for our industry.
“Having since paid in a total of around £230 million, our industry deserved far better from the RDP, and the concerns that we had raised repeatedly since 2013 over the RDP should have been acted on sooner.”
Amongst these was that the decision in 2013 to scrap a dedicated RDP Monitoring Committee and bring its work within a massive single EU Programme Monitoring Committee would undermine the scrutiny and monitoring of the RDP.
Similar concerns were raised in a Wales Audit Office report in 2018, which recommended that scrutiny arrangements for the management and delivery of the RDP be improved and that risk management arrangements for the RDP be clarified and documented.
During the formative stages of the current RDP the FUW worked in partnership with NFU Cymru and other farming organisations to present a targeted RDP aimed at delivering a productive, profitable and progressive agricultural industry through carefully monitoring the outcomes of actions and interventions to avoid inappropriate reinvestment.
“We are convinced that many of the shortcomings identified by the Auditor General in this latest report and the previous 2018 findings would have been avoided had our recommendations been taken up.
“We now urge the Welsh Government to use the remaining time of the RDP to take action to restore confidence and get money out to rural businesses, including through the derogations that have been introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic,” added Mr Roberts.