The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it believes the conclusions of a report on the RHI scheme tariffs will see farmers who entered the scheme for legitimate reasons stigmatised and treated unfairly.
UFU deputy president, Victor Chestnutt, said he believed that in the race by politicians and officials to distance themselves from this scheme logic, fairness and common sense had been put to one side.
The UFU was commenting after the publication of a report into future RHI tariff arrangements. This emerged five months after the consultation closed and the UFU says it still believes the process was flawed. “We made this clear at the time and we have not changed that opinion,” said Mr Chestnutt.
According to the UFU, at the time of the consultation, the DfE put forward eight possible tariff structures. However, in this report they have eagerly discounted the preferred option to revert to the original tariff structure under 2012 regulations, which was favoured by 82 per cent of respondees. The report also ignores the possibility of a compulsory buy out scheme, a question which was also included in the consultation.
“If these were not viable concepts, why were they part of the consultation – and what happened to see them discounted,” said the UFU deputy president. The UFU says many farmers who entered the RHI scheme now find themselves financially exposed, because of failings by others in designing and implementing the RHI scheme. As a result their tariff income is far below expectations, leaving them struggling to repay borrowings for boilers, which were taken out on the strength of government guarantees on long-term tariffs.
“Our concerns now are around how future decisions will be taken. Embarrassment about the RHI scheme is eclipsing fair play and exposing farmers to major financial problems through no fault of their own. This consultation process was, we believe, flawed and skewed towards a particular outcome. This does not augur well for future decisions, and those affected have a right to know how the recommendations were reached. They need to be convinced the reasoning was financial and not about sweeping under the carpet what has become an embarrassing mess for politicians and the civil service,” said Mr Chestnutt. The UFU has written to the DfE Permanent Secretary to request an urgent meeting to discuss the report and its consequences.