The RPA administers an EU subsidy for farmers for maintaining their land which was introduced in 2005 - but delays to payments in England, blamed on computer failures at the agency, cost millions of pounds and were described by MPs as a "fiasco".In other words, it is really an executive arm of the European Union and of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Caroline Spelman, the relevant Secretary of State, tried to explain that things would be different from now on:
Bronwyn Hill, the department's permanent secretary, said bonuses paid out to RPA staff had fallen - from 100% of staff getting "small bonuses" to 11.8% of staff this year, who were paid a median amount of £893.That's nice. It does not, however, deal with the problem of why DEFRA exists at all and why it has grown exponentially (together with the various outreach organizations like the RPA) over the last twenty years.
But Mr Parish, himself a former farmer, queried the figure of £425,000 - £430,000, apparently paid to a job-share post in the RPA.
"We have had all this mess with the Rural Payments Agency. If I say to my farmers the highest paid person in Defra is an accountant in the RPA, albeit two of them sharing the same job, I think they might be slightly concerned, to say the least." He added: "It's just not going down well, is it?"
Mrs Spelman agreed it was a "very high salary". But the department's permanent secretary, Bronwyn Hill, said it was a legacy of interim appointments - made from the private sector - to fill roles at the RPA. She said the department had been focusing on replacing interim posts with full time, permanent staff to reduce costs.
"This is probably a historic legacy of having to pay people from the private sector to fill jobs which were quite difficult to fill," she said.
"The good news is we have since appointed, in July, the ex-finance director of Defra has moved across to the agency on a much lower salary than that."
After all, everything DEFRA deals with is now EU competence. It's role is to send people along to the various negotiations to do with environment, farming, food production and rural affairs and then to implement the various rules laid down by the relevant EU bodies either in the form of a directive or, more likely, of a regulation that does not need to go through Parliament at all. Even there, some of that role had been hived off to quangos like the Food Standards Agency (oh yes, it still exists and will go on existing for the foreseeable future).