The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee has called upon the government to clarify its new digital policies.
According to MPs, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) must ensure that British farmers at not left disadvantaged by the move to digital only Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) applications next year.
CAP is an EU policy that covers farming, environmental measures, rural development and controls EU agricultural markets.
Under the newly updated “digital by default” version of the policy, farmers will only be able to apply for CAP funding online, with paper forms being abolished.
However, the Committee has expressed concerns that farmers in remote areas with poor broadband will inevitably suffer.
Committee Chair Anne McIntosh argued that although she and her organisation support the idea of encouraging as many as possible to apply for funding online, it simply wasn’t going to be possible for a large number of farmers.
McIntosh also noted that Defra and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) have issued conflicting advice – with the latter claiming that paper forms will not be available and the former stating otherwise.
“We need clarification, because we cannot have the Minister [Defra] saying one thing and the RPA another,” she claimed.
“If, as the RPA assured us, paper forms will not be available to submit, intensive tuition must be made available to those required to go digital from 1st January,” the Chair added.
The government is currently trying to improve broadband speeds and access across the country as part of its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme.