Results of a recent National Audit review of Defra and Environmental Land Management Scheme review have been published:
Facts already known about ELMS:
ELMS will be delivered through three components:
- Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI): open to all farmers with payment for actions to manage land in an environmentally sustainable way
- Local Nature Recovery: payment for more complex actions delivering benefit at a local level and aims to encourage collaboration between farms
- Landscape Recovery: payment for large scale projects delivering landscape and ecosystem recovery and long-term land use change
Defra planned annual spending on agricultural schemes £2.4 billion
Target administrative cost of delivering ELMS 10% compared to 18% under current schemes
Farms will receive a 55% reduction in direct payments by 2024-25
38% of farm businesses would have made a loss without direct payment receipts in 2017/18 and 2019/20
Findings from National Audit Office review:
Defra is yet to establish its objectives for ELMS. HM Treasury have asked for five or six specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited (SMART) objectives.
Defra has yet to develop a detailed plan beyond March 2022
There are concerns about gaps in staff capacity and capability. In late 2020 Defra reported it had only 55% of the staff it required in ELMS. Since then, the situation has improved a little now only 12% unfilled vacancies.
The early introduction of the SFI in 2022 was a significant change to the ELM programme. Even though the phased reduction in direct payments was known Defra had no plans to introduce any of ELMS until 2024, meaning businesses had no opportunity to replace income lost. Ministers decided the late change to bring forward some elements of the SFI and Defra have had to design something quickly. There are concerns the programme may be attempting to do too much, creating delivery risks as a result. The initial scope of the SFI in 2022 has been scaled back to focus on soil management now largely so as to not overlap with the existing Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
The initial response from farmers to the SFI pilot was lower than Defra had assumed. Their target was for 5,000 – 10,000 businesses to submit an expression of interest to participate in the SFI pilot to take 1,000 forward. Actual submission number was 2,178 from 44,000 eligible farmers (5%).