Rural Payments Agency names new chief exec
Paul Caldwell confirmed as permanent head of troubled Defra distribution arm
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed the promotion of Paul Caldwell to permanent head of the troubled Rural Payments Agency.
Caldwell has served as interim chief executive at the body since predecessor Mark Grimshaw quit earlier this year. Prior to that he was operational delivery director for the Basic Payment Scheme, which is the biggest of the European Union’s rural grants to farmers.
The RPA was heavily criticised in 2015 after farmers were left out of pocket because of issues with the agency's digital overhaul, problems that public spending watchdog the National Audit Office said had been made worse by a high-profile spat between the RPA and the Government Digital Service.
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An NAO report found Defra "failed to prevent counterproductive behaviours by senior leaders" of the RPA and GDS working on the project and flagged "deep rifts between programme leaders at many stages of the programme’s history", which it said had contributed to a 40% increase in costs and undermined longer-term reforms.
Earlier this year, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee questioned Defra’s ability to deal with the UK’s departure from the European Union in the wake of the fiasco, and pointed to “disallowance penalties” totalling £642m that taxpayers would be liable for because of non-compliance with Common Agricultural Policy rules over the years since 2005.
Announcing the appointment of Caldwell, pictured left, as permanent RPA chief executive, Defra perm sec Clare Moriarty said he had been “instrumental” in improving the agency’s performance and ensuring more than 99% of 2016’s BPS payments had been made as of the end of last month.
“Paul is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead and his appointment will provide important stability, working alongside the RPA’s experienced leadership team,” she said.
“I am confident Paul will continue to improve performance, building on the agency’s recent achievements for the benefit of our farmers and rural communities.”
Prior to becoming operational delivery director for the Basic Payment Scheme, Caldwell previously worked as manager at the British Cattle Movement Service and held various roles within the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.