From FPB's website http://www.fpb.co.uk/include/defra.jsp
Farmers and contractors are still owed millions of pounds by the Government for work carried out during the foot and mouth crisis
Latest - click hereDuring this crisis contracts were agreed and if these contracts were delivered they should be paid. Under the late payment legislation, if all the work was carried out by firms with fewer than 50 staff, then so far over £14m of interest on those invoices has been accrued.
FPB are only too aware of the difficulties rural communities already face; the added pressure Defra is imposing unnecessarily, demonstrates the shorted- sightedness of the Government about the importance of the rural sector in the UK economy.
Go to FPB's pdf file for a form to fill out. It begins:
"The Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act, introduced by the Government in 1998 after a sustained campaign by FPB requires Government departments and Local Authorities to pay promptly. Where payment is not made by the due date, interest (at 8% over base) on the outstanding debt is liable, and should be paid in addition to the debt. "
NOTE: We understand that FPB have not taken anybody to court - just done their level best to raise awareness of the issue at a national level. Businesses may be under the mistaken impression that the FPB are in a position to legally represent them on the many issues involved with the F&M outbreak and unfortunately that isn't the case.
An emailer writes.. (Jan 2004)
Further to earlier information I am repeating some of the message again but now that the judgment has been given against Defra. It is important to get the message out to claimants at all levels be it £100 upwards.I have been in touch with an organisation named The Forum of Private Business. They don`t charge fees but they accept donations of not less than £100
...the JDM Accord case on 16th. January. These were the contractors who dug the burial pits in Devon and then had to fill them in again. The case went very badly for Defra and not only did the judge find against them but added that the company could claim for waiting time and travelling time plus meal breaks. The judge also denied Defra the right of appeal.
FPB now want to do two things: firstly they want anyone who has a genuine claim for unpaid bills connected to FMD to contact them via their website: www.fpb.co.uk . They can also speak to James Meyrick Tel:01565 634467 fax 0870 241 9570 or e-mail: email@example.com . Contact may also be made via Paul Gregory Tel: 0208 894 5732.
They hope to get a whole heap of claimants to whack in cases which in the light of the JDM Accord judgment, could well succeed. It is important that genuine claims are put in quickly.Interest can be recalculated by using the website www.payontime.co.uk
The Forum of Private Business address is:-
FPB are also interested in the other matters which have concerned us for so long namely; the animal cruelty, illegal contiguous culls, bullying of farmers and families, the lies and deceit over blood tests plus any additional material of this ilk. Photographic evidence would be useful as would eye-witness accounts. This is a separate issue from the unpaid bills and may need different handling.
I am only waving the flag for FPB on the basis that at least they have taken some action and achieved a victory. Logic dictates that with that sort of record, they could do it again. It has to be up to the individual whether or not they want to gain repayment for their expenses and in the last issue, we will have to see how this matter develops. I think we all have a heap of information, some duplicated, some not. But it does need sorting and made into a case which Defra will have to answer even to the extent of a Public Inquiry."
The Forum of Private Businesses www.fpb.co.uk The FPB are also interested in the other matters which have concerned us for so long namely; the animal cruelty, illegal contiguous culls, bullying of farmers and families, the lies and deceit over blood tests plus any additional material of this ilk. Photographic evidence would be useful as would eye-witness accounts
NOTE: It should be made clear that FPB have not taken anybody to court - just done their level best to raise awareness of the issue at a national level. Businesses may be under the mistaken impression that the FPB are in a position to legally represent them on the many issues involved with the F&M outbreak and unfortunately that isn't the case.
October 5 2005 ~ Defra still has to settle bills worth £20 million in Devon.
The Western Morning News reports on the Ruttles case and quotes Nick Goulding of the FPB "..... "As a result of the precedent set by this court judgment, we will be encouraging several other contractors we have been supporting to pursue Defra for payment, and claim interest at a rate of over 12 per cent for late payment as their statutory right. This will mean Defra having to pay out up to another £40 million plus interest nationally."
The FPB alleges the Government department could be forced to hand over millions of pounds to a long queue of other contractors still waiting to be paid for the disposal of millions of livestock in Britain's foot and mouth epidemic in 2001..." Read in full
Sept 19 2005 ~ 40 Million is still owed by DEFRA
Nick Goulding: "We demand that the next government acts swiftly to bring to a close the whole sorry episode and commits to honouring all bona fide outstanding invoices at the earliest opportunity."
Western Morning News "....More than 1,200 contractors were enlisted by Defra during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. Latest Government figures show that fewer than 1 per cent of those contractors' claims have been or are being investigated as fraudulent. So far, not one contractor has been prosecuted as a result of the Defra investigations..." See press release
April 25 2005 ~ the failure to pay many contractors is totally unacceptable.FPB chief executive Nick Goulding, quoted in icteeside.co.uk :
"The FPB knows firms which have gone bust because they could not operate any longer without being paid the cash they were owed by Defra.
"These are businesses which helped the Government at a time of national crisis and did a superb job in extremely pressured circumstances. The new Government must sort out this quite appalling situation so hard working honest firms are paid the cash that is rightfully owed to them.
"The culture of prevarication and inefficiency which has characterised Defra's handling of the foot-and-mouth contractors must not be allowed to continue into a new term. This is a fresh start and FPB calls on the new Government to pay up.
Mr Goulding dismissed as a tired excuse Defra's plea that some invoices submitted by contractors contained irregularities..."
April 8 -15 2005 ~ The cost of the unpaid invoices
As for the Department's refusal to pay millions in late invoices and the hardship that has caused to many small businesses, we note that for all those heated allegations of "fraudulent claims", Hansard has reported (23rd March 2005) that precisely
six people have been prosecuted for fraud by Defra: three were Defra staff, who were convicted and dismissed, three farmers were prosecuted for making false compensation claims, one pleaded guilty and the other two were acquitted.In one judgement (Ruttle Plant Hire v DEFRA) the judge took particular care, over five pages, scathingly to dissect and reject allegations of deliberate and systematic overcharging.
Mr. Clifton-Brown asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on April 4 "how many ongoing claims and invoices for work connected with the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak have not been settled by her Department" No answer came from Mr Bradshaw except an oblique referral to pages 36 and 37 of the National Audit Office Report. This in fact reports £40 million as outstanding. The amounts of contractual interest or Statutory Right to Interest are between about £12 million and £18 million respectively. SRI is mounting up at over £100,000 per month, and has reached well over £3million (from July 2002) without addition of interest for the previous late paid invoices. The cost of challenges on invoices in the cases of JDM and Ruttle Plant Hire is, we understand, in the region of £6.6 million.
3 March 2005 ~ DEFRA, facing a High Court action, has finally settled out of court with Cumbria Waste Management
News from Cumbria News and Star is that DEFRA, facing a High Court action, has finally settled out of court with Cumbria Waste Management, to whom they owed £5 million; a deal that is "likely to be the biggest so far arising out of FMD – more than the £1.4 million paid to Lakeland Waste Management last year. Now the only firm in the county (ie Cumbria) still awaiting Defra payment for FMD work is Cumbria Contract Services (CCS),which still has £1.7 million bill outstanding for work including disinfecting roads."
February 21- 28 2005 ~"We are saying that four years is a totally unacceptable delay in paying hard working contractors who have submitted accurate invoices.
" Mr Morley is using the same old hackneyed excuse that the delay is because contractors are overcharging the Government, but as the FPB has argued repeatedly the facts show there is little evidence of this. On the fourth anniversary of this terrible outbreak, where the contractors did all in their power to help the Government and the country, it is time for an end to the prevaricating. Defra must pay up."Nick Goulding of the FPB
. See Western Morning News
2 - 7 February 2005 ~ FPB says the NAO report is flawed ".. as it accepts Defra's findings uncritically."
The Forum of Private Business (FPB) says in its press release that the National Audit Office report fails properly to scrutinise the Government's mishandling of the aftermath of the foot and mouth affair and " is flawed as it accepts Defra's findings uncritically."
"Defra's behaviour towards contractors, to which it still owes £40m, is deplorable,' said the FPB's Chief Executive Nick Goulding. "It has owed this cash for more than three years and its refusal to pay is seriously hurting and undermining small businesses, some of whom have gone bust. The NAO report has failed to properly raise this issue. Instead, it has taken Defra's figures at face value and failed to critically examine them. Contractors worked in good faith for the Government during a time of national crisis. Defra's continued failure to pay needs to be properly highlighted in public..."Mr Goulding said he is dismayed that the NAO failed to consult with the Small Business Service and Better Payment Practice Group (BPPG) when compiling its report. Read their press release in full
2 February 2005 ~ "not an area where we can afford such a lackadaisical approach"
NAO Chairman's Statement ".. I am alarmed that the Department has been dragging its heels in setting up a scheme to share future costs with industry. Defra has also been dreadfully slow in paying all its bills. Four years after the outbreak, Defra is yet to begin its planned review of some of its contractors’ costs, and £40 million of invoices remain unpaid. When we criticised Defra for paying too much, we didn’t mean it to stop paying any of its remaining contractors. And the introduction of an IT system to help control future outbreaks has been delayed. This is not an area where we can afford such a lackadaisical approach. Being better prepared will also help avoid the need for the mass funeral pyres which provided enduring and unsettling images of the 2001 outbreak. "
November 27 - Dec 3 2004 ~ Contractors are still owed "around £50 million"
WMN "....The Forum of Private Business warned that the Government must not be allowed to use the EC decision as an excuse for further delays in paying contractors who are still owed around £50 million for work carried out during the 2001 crisis.
Chief executive Nick Goulding said: "The Forum of Private Business warned that the Government must not be allowed to use the EC decision as an excuse for further delays in paying contractors who are still owed around £50 million for work carried out during the 2001 crisis.
Chief executive Nick Goulding said: "The fact that Defra's inefficiency in handling the crisis has caused the EC to refuse to award the sum which Defra claimed is no reason not to pay the countless hard-working firms that carried out first class work in good faith.
"It is thoroughly unacceptable to treat small businesses operating on tight budgets in such a deplorable way; these bills have now been outstanding for more than three years. The Government has no credible reason not to pay these contractors with immediate effect."
July 20 2004 ~ DEFRA is still disputing charges from contractors who worked during the 2001 epidemic.
£53.3m of invoices remain outstanding. icWales
March 2 - 6 ~ renewed demands for compensation from the Government and for a full public inquiry into the outbreak...."
" A flood of compensation claims against Defra, especially from the 62 pig-swill feeders who lost their businesses after a ban on the practice, is now certain." Valerie Elliott in the Times calls the Dring story "an extraordinary development" and says "Mr Dring’s confession may never have been disclosed to the inquiry fuelling suspicion that the paper may have been suppressed...
The admission has renewed demands for compensation from the Government and for a full public inquiry into the outbreak...." Read in full
March 2 - 6 ~ the admission would strengthen the case for legal action
".... Mr Dring, now a DEFRA vet, wrote: "... at a time when illicit feeding practices were clearly in train and had been for some time, I inspected this (sic) premises with a view to renewing the Waughs' Article 26 licence."Like other pig farmers using swill, the Waughs received a letter from MAFF on September 17, 1998, which warned of an "increased risk of the introduction of the strain to the EU...You will be aware that the strict controls on the processing and feeding of waste to pigs are specifically to prevent the introduction of epidemics." and yet MAFF did not ban the use of slops - the very thing, it implied, might spread the disease.
"Had this inspection been more rigorous than it was, had the licence not been renewed, or renewed only subject to radical revision of the Waugh's patently deficient feeding technique, then this awful 2001 FMD epidemic would never have come about," he wrote.
Lynda Davies, national co-ordinator of the Association of Swill Users, said the admission would strengthen the case for legal action against MAFF/DEFRA... " Read in full
See also Jason Podmore case and http://www.warmwell.com/nov25persey.html
March 2 - 6 ~ "when it was pointed out that he was only bankrupt because Defra had forced him out of business, Mr Podmore was given leave for his action to proceed."
Private Eye last week ".... recently raised Defra's scandalous conduct in casually wiping out a whole industry: the 62 small companies which used to make a living gathering up hundreds of thousands of tons of food waste every year to feed to pigs. ....
...Defra's callous treatment of the swill producers is now being investigated by the parliamentary ombudsman, and one former producer, Jason Podmore, is hoping shortly to sue Defra for compensation in the High Court. Initially Defra's lawyers claimed that he was not entitled to launch an action since he was bankrupt. But when it was pointed out that he was only bankrupt because Defra had forced him out of business, Mr Podmore was given leave for his action to proceed. " Read Muckspreader in full
March 2 ~ Hope for £100m in FMD bills
The Journal A court judgment ordering Defra to pay a contractor £5m for work during the foot-and-mouth epidemic should encourage contractors collectively owed more than £100m, according to a North solicitor who is pursuing a different case. .... David Hunter, a partner with North-East legal firm Blackett Hart & Pratt.. said: "The experience of JDM mirrors that of numerous other contractors, many in this region. "In many cases, contractors have been chasing Defra for payment of outstanding debts for nearly three years. .. ...It is a matter of public record that Maff was wholly unprepared for the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. It was, to a large extent, the author of its own and Defra's misfortune. ...Invoices raised by contractors to Maff were routinely paid. It appears to be no coincidence that upon Maff becoming Defra, payment of contractors' invoices quickly dried up. It also seems to be no coincidence that, as at the time payment of invoices was first being withheld by Defra, foot-and-mouth disease was under some control....Defra has steadfastly refused to pay any part of a contractor's invoice where any discrepancy had been identified, however minor. The financial position of many contractors was exacerbated by the fact that some had taken on a financial risk on behalf of Defra in employing sub-contractors to assist in carrying out operations."... " Read in full
Feb 24 2004 ~ Dead Cow Day
Jonathan Guthrie: Debts, disputes and drownings Financial Times "Last Friday, February 20, was the third anniversary of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, a date destined, I believe, to be marked by a new rural festival called Dead Cow Day. All across the land on Dead Cow Day simple country folk will commemorate the passing of another year during which the government failed to honour its remaning debts to contractors who helped defeat the epidemic...I imagine a quaint village ritual in which an effigy of Alun Michael, the minister for rural affairs, is decked with spring flowers before being paraded through the streets and chucked into the duck pond. ..... I spoke to rural contractors about their three-year battle to extract payment from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.... I am hoping the Department of Trade and Industry, which itself has an impeccable bill-paying record, will remonstrate with Defra. Only last week a DTI official told me it wanted to "raise awareness" on the problem of late payment.
The FPB gripes that it has already
"asked Nigel Griffiths, the small firms minister, to help, but he said he would rather not deal with Defra on this"I reckon he just needs a bit more encouragement. He has only to pop round the corner from the DTI's headquarters in Victoria to picket the offices of Defra. I am faxing him a map so he does not get lost on the way. I am also DHL-ing him some pond weed. I want Mr Griffiths to wave it menacingly at his fellow minister. That should remind Mr Michael of the watery ritual he risks being commemorated by on Dead Cow Day." " Read in full
Feb 24 ~ The Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Owen Paterson MP
2pm meeting with contractors on DEFRA's non payment of foot and mouth contracts, in Okehampton, is a public meeting and media are invited to attend.
Feb 14 ~ Why is the 50 million still owed by DEFRA not being paid?
Interest could now be as much as 25% on the total bill.
The Defra / Late Payment issue on Today programme and Five Live's breakfast show on Friday. Kieron Hayes, Press Officer of the Forum of Private Businesses www.fpb.co.uk, writes, " the Defra / Late Payment issue made it on to both Radio 4's Today programme and Five Live's breakfast show. If you would like to hear the interview it is available via the Radio 4 website. visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/
Garry Parker, FPB Public Affairs Adviser, took part in the interview."
Extract: "DEFRA were claiming originally that a number of the contractors were being investigated for fraud. The national audit office went through this process but of the 18 that looked as though they might have committed fraud none were charged - but in the process four or more DEFRA officials were charged with fraud...There is no sensible answer from DEFRA as to why they are not paying and not giving an apology to the businesses that have not yet been paid. There have been lots of Parliamentary Questions to Ben Bradshaw and Lord Whitty. They have not been satisfactorily answered....."
(DEFRA would not talk to the Today Programme and confirmed only that they, DEFRA, would be appearing in the High Court accused of failing to pay for the work done during the crisis.)
Feb 4 ~"None of the delay is due to ineptness, it is due to the Government -- Defra in particular -- safeguarding the public purse. .."
Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government: What action they will take to settle the£100 million in outstanding payments to contractors who worked during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. .....My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, is not the fraudulent case rather a red herring as only 1 per cent of the contractors involved in the foot and mouth epidemic are being investigated for fraud?...... (Hansard)
Feb 3 ~ "The Forum of Private Business
(www.fpb.co.uk) don't charge fees but they accept donations of not less than £100. It was this organisation which successfully took Defra to court and won the landmark judgment in the JDM Accord case on 16th. January. These were the contractors who dug the burial pits in Devon and then had to fill them in again. They have been trying to get repayment from Defra without success. The case went very badly for Defra and not only did the judge find against them but added that the company could claim for waiting time and travelling time plus meal breaks. The judge also denied Defra the right of appeal.
FPB now want to do two things: firstly they want anyone who has a genuine claim for unpaid bills connected to FMD to contact them via their website: www.fpb.co.uk . They can also speak to James Meyrick Tel:01565 634467 fax 0870 241 9570 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Contact may also be made via Paul Gregory Tel: 0208 894 5732." Read in full
Jan 20 2004 ~"The judgment follows several cases which have seen Defra accused of strong-arm tactics in a bid to avoid paying contractors..."
Latest: Jan 20 From the Western Morning News ".....The judge expressed his highest praise for the dedication, professionalism and service of JDM Accord throughout its work with Defra.
"It was a matter of some regret for the company that litigation was required, however - the charges made by JDM Accord were correct, accurate and reliable."
The trial, which lasted 12 weeks, found Defra had acted illegally and was in breach of contract. Disputes included paying for meal breaks and travel time. The judgment follows several cases which have seen Defra accused of strong-arm tactics in a bid to avoid paying contractors..."
"one of the biggest scandals remaining from the 2001 foot and mouth debacle...." Christopher Booker
From FPB website "Following yet another defeat in the courts for Defra connected with contractor's claims for payments still outstanding from the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis, FPB have received some excellent coverage in both the Sunday Telegraph and Private Eye.
Relevant links on warmwell( Each opens in new window)
... Valerie Elliott in the Times ... A number of fraud investigations are now under way ... private contractors leapt on to a multimillion-pound gravy train during last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic .... spinalert.html
Small Business (Late Payment)
Andrew George (St. Ives): If she will make a statement on the late payment of debts to small businesses.  03nov12pq.html -
The Fifth Report of the Public Accounts Committee
"...The 46 fraud investigations initiated on the LW(D)S were in the main ... DEFRA's payment policy is to pay contractors the monies legitimately due to them for work ... defradefends2.html
Forum of Private Business
... probably know that a frequent response of Defra is to allege fraud (see Nigel ... who have gone into liquidation as a result of non-payment by Defra, but do you ... 03nov12paulg.html
Nov 8 ~ The government are accusing of "fraud" firms near bankruptcy because of DEFRA's non payment over FMD work. See WMN.
Foot and Mouth Contingency Plan. ... checking, write-off, over and under payment procedures in. ... the process of dealing with allegations of fraud. ... vaccination programme under a contract with Defra. ... conplan03.html
... is considering capping the UK's total final FMD payment "grave concerns ... an investigation by Olaf, its anti-fraud unit ... Read in full about how DEFRA asked farmers ... octnovarchive.html
inbox new ... These vets could, by their fraud, spread disease all round the world. ... She writes, "DEFRA have still not acknowledged the payment ( or taken it out of the ... inboxnewnov1003.html
(See also from the FPB website "Court case bodes well for Foot and Mouth contractors")
A landslide defeat for Defra in the high court has blown wide open one of the biggest scandals remaining from the 2001 foot and mouth debacle:A landslide defeat for Defra in the high court has blown wide open one of the biggest scandals remaining from the 2001 foot and mouth debacle: the ministry's astonishing refusal to pay hundreds of contractors £100 million still owing for work done to Defra/Maff's instructions when the crisis was at its height. The court ordered Defra to pay JDM Accord £5 million it had been owed for nearly three years, for building the notorious Ash Moor burial pit in Devon, designed to hold 500,000 dead animals and never used. But JDM 's victory has only highlighted the hundreds of other cases where Defra has refused to pay contractors still owed more than £100 million for work carried out to Maff's instructions. Typical has been the nightmare faced by Luke Furse Earthmoving Ltd., a Devon contracting firm run for 25 years by Mr Furse and his wife. Shortly after the crisis hit Devon, the firm responded so efficiently to a call to build one of the county's huge pyres of infected animals that it soon became one of Maff''s major allies. Eventually Furse Earthmoving was responsible for organising and constructing more than 40 pyres. To carry out this dirty, unpleasant, exhausting work, the firm had to expand its normal workforce of 25 to 400.
At every step the company acted under the instructions of Maff officials, keeping a detailed record of invoices, dockets, logged telephone calls and other paperwork amounting to 750,000 items. All payments were agreed, recorded and counter-signed until, when the crisis was finally over, the time came for accounts to be settled. Only then, as months went by, did it gradually emerge that something had gone hideously wrong.
During the six months of the crisis, Maff ordered spending as if there was no tomorrow, knowing that, under EU law, a large part of the bill would eventually be picked up by the European Commission. But as the dust settled, Commission officials began to hint that they were not happy with the way Maff had been throwing money around. Farmers had been paid too much in compensation (since much of the 'cull' had been illegal, this was thought necessary to buy off their protests). Too much had been spent in every direction.
In 2002 and 2003 it gradually became clear that Defra was finding any excuse not to pay the money it owed to hundreds of contractors, including Furse Earthmoving. Invoices for £500,000 and other documents which the firm supplied to Defra were mysteriously 'lost'. Quibbles were raised about the tiniest details of spending. Typical was the way, during the crisis, Maff had ordered that each of the firm's employees must be supplied with two sets of wellies, so that one could be disinfected while the other was in use. But Defra now said this was not necessary. What made the nightmare only more alarming was to discover through the Forum of Private Business that countless other firms were being treated in the same way. Defra's refusal to pay its debts was clearly based on a strategy concerted from the highest level. Only this month, when MPs tried to raise the scandal in the Commons, when one MP raised the Furse case. the minister Alun Michael continued to stonewall. But now, with JDM's court victory, Defra's tactics have been comprehensively ruled as illegal. The day of reckoning for this astonishing official policy of intimidation, bullying and dishonesty has at last arrived.
Sunday Telegraph/Notebook 16 JanuaryBooker's Notebook
A flurry of court cases in recent days has highlighted the horrifying treatment by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of 350 contractors claiming more than £100 million owed for work carried out on ministry instructions during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. Terrified that it may lose £1 billion due to Britain from Brussels, Defra has tried to appease the European Commission by finding every excuse not to hand over the money, owed to firms on which it relied through the crisis to build pyres, move carcases and disinfect farms. But now it seems the courts have finally called Defra's bluff on a campaign of intimidation which has been actively supported by ministers - while the UK government may well lose the £1 billion it wishes to claim from Brussels anyway.
On Friday the new 'Technology and Construction Court' ruled that JDM Accord should be paid £5 million it has been owed since 2001 for constructing a vast £7 million burial pit at Ash Moor, Devon, which was never used (and which it cost taxpayers a further £3 million to fill in). Days earlier, a Devon farmer Michael Pedrick, 63, who lost his entire farm stock during the crisis, was cleared at Exeter of trying to cheat Defra out of £17,000, after the ministry spent more than £100,000 trying to convict him. He said afterwards that he and his family had been 'put through hell' by Defra's officials.
Another 62-year old Devon farmer, Ted Haste, was due to appear last Monday on criminal charges of deceiving the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by wrongly claiming compensation in an invoice he was instructed to submit by Maff officials. At the last minute, after what Mr Haste described as two years of 'living nightmare', Defra abandoned its case and told Mr Haste he was now free to continue his claim.
Hundreds of contractors still have claims outstanding, including Robert Pugh of Montgomeryshire, still owed £500,000 by Defra after its officials spent two years quibbling over sums as small as 35p. The small Devon contracting firm run by Luke Furse and his wife Suzanne gave such efficient assistance to Maff in building more than 40 funeral pyres that at one time they were employing 400 people. Despite being supplied with 750,000 documents, recording in detail every action the firm took under MAFF's instruction, many counter-signed by MAFF officials, Defra has conducted such a remorseless campaign of prevarication and intimidation that the firm is still owed £1.2 million.
During the crisis Maff seemed under no constraint in the reckless way in which it threw money at signing up contractors to help. Difficulties over payment only became serious after Brussels questioned the scale of Maff's expenditure, and indicated its reluctance to hand over £1.2 billion due to the UK government under EU law.
Only when many of the contractors' cases were taken on by the Forum of Private Business did it emerge that Defra was using a common strategy to justify non-payment, such as refusing to pay for meal breaks and travel time. Many of the same devices were used against JDM, in the 12-week case which came to judgement last Friday, when the court ruled they were illegal and in breach of contract.
Publicly ministers, led by Margaret Beckett and Alun Michael, admit they have spent £20 million investigating the hundreds of cases still outstanding, to save, they claim, £80 million. Of 1200 cases investigated, the National Audit Office last year found that only 18 involved fraud, non proven and most now abandoned. But the real disgrace of this affair is that, despite Defra's shameless efforts to convince Brussels that it has been looking after taxpayers' interests, the European Commission has not yet shown any sign of being impressed. It has capped the UK's right to claim repayment at a mere £250 million, leaving £1 billion outstanding - a sum it seems the UK government may now never be in a position to claim.