The head of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Edward Leigh MP has described the EU farm subsidies system in most of the UK as ‘a masterclass in misadministration’.

Mr Leigh was responding to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), which said that the current average cost of processing a claim in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was now £1,743  – a considerable sum at the cost of the taxpayer, a figure which sits in stark contrast to that faced by Scottish taxpayers – a relatively minor £285.

The NAO report places the blame for this firmly at the door of the Defra and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), who it says have failed to protect public money in the process of issuing grants to farmers. The report goes on to suggest that since its’ conception in 2005, the EU system has cost in excess of £680 million – credited to ‘unforeseen additional costs’.  These costs are broken down into £304m in extra staff costs and £280m in penalties for late payments and administrative errors. Farmers have also been overpaid to the sum of between £55 million and £280 million.

* For more news stories like this every week subscribe and save

Shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert said: ‘Vast sums of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on excessive administration costs and fines to the EU, yet typically ministers who should be held accountable for this dismal state of affairs still refuse to accept their responsibility…It is time for a fundamental overhaul of the agency to get a grip of the farm payments scheme once and for all.’

Peter Kendall, president of The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) accused Defra of rushing to implement a ‘hugely complex model’. He added that ‘initially, it was farmers who paid the price, but now it is taxpayers who are picking up the tab for the whole sorry mess.’