HC Deb 13 March 2003 vol 401 cc368-70W
Mr. Blizzard

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many grants have been approved under the land-based schemes of the England Rural Development Programme since its inception; and what proportion of the total available budget this represented in each year. [102404]

Scheme Total number of agreements Number of agreements approved between 2000–021,2 Scheme budget 2000–06 (£ million)
Countryside Stewardship Scheme 13,858 6,290 481
Environmentally Sensitive Areas 12,300 1,677 330
Organic Farming Scheme n/a 1,085 141
Woodland Grant Scheme 32,748 7,058 139
Farm Woodland Premium Scheme/Farm Woodland Scheme 10,059 2,389 77
Energy Crops Scheme n/a 31 32
Hill Farm Allowance2 n/a 9,953 254
1 Figures for number of approved agreements are provisional as some agreements for 2002 remain to be processed. Agreements entered into before 2000 are excluded.
2 For Hill Farm Allowance, figure relates to number of payments made on claims received in 2002 rather than agreements approved over the years 2000 to 2002.

It is not possible to compare the value of approved agreements in a given year directly with the budget for that year, because (a) the majority of agreements under the land based schemes are for commitments lasting 10 years or more and with payments made annually; (b) first payments under individual agreements may not always be made in the same year as the agreement is approved; and (c) much of the current budget for land based schemes is expended on commitments entered into before the ERDP began in 2000.

In financial year 2000–01, 83 per cent. of the total budget available for the ERDP land-based schemes was spent, and in financial year 2001–02, 89 per cent. of the total budget available for the ERDP land-based schemes was spent.

Mr. Blizzard

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to(a) encourage the take-up and (b) speed up the processing of grants for land-based schemes of the England Rural Development Programme. [102405]

Alun Michael

All ERDP schemes are being promoted both at national and regional level through joint working with partner organisations, at events such as agricultural shows and other public events, news releases and local publicity, and workshops for potential applicants.

Alun Michael

In addition, a number of initiatives are in place to encourage uptake of particular ERDP land-based schemes. For example, the opening of the 2003 Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) application window was announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment on 7 November 2002 and applications have been encouraged through advertisements in the national farming press. In order to increase the number of farmers converting to organic production methods, the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) will be relaunched from May 2003 with a new option that allows payments to be made (over a five year agreement) for the management of organically farmed land in an environmentally beneficial way. In addition, steps are under way to improve the take up of the Energy Crops Scheme (ECS), which supports the establishment of short rotation coppice and miscanthus as renewable energy sources. The Government have allocated The following table shows the number of ERDP agreements approved under the land based schemes since the Programme began in 2000, and the total programme budget for each scheme.

£66 million to the development of end markets for such crops, and £3.5 million for improvements to the fuels supply infrastructure. We will also be reviewing the rules in respect of the co-firing of energy crops with coal.

The payment of some claims has recently been delayed due to the need under EU regulations to cross-check land-based scheme agreements against the IACS database. Steps have now been taken to speed up the processing of applications and payments through the streamlining of administrative procedures. In addition, a simplified claim form for CSS payments was introduced last year, to significantly ease the burden on beneficiaries. Also, to allow more time for the preparation of CSS applications, the application window has been opened two months earlier than in previous years. Over the longer term, major reviews of both the agri-environment and forestry schemes are considering ways of rationalising and simplifying existing arrangements. To this end a pilot of the Entry Level Scheme, which is designed to encourage a large number of farmers across a wide area of farmland to deliver simple yet effective environmental management on their farms, was launched on 27 February. Together with the introduction of new IT systems in Defra, the Rural Payments Agency and the Forestry Commission, these developments should lead to significant improvements in the speed and efficiency of land-based scheme administration.