back to article UK.gov can't get farmers onto its Verify service – even to claim subsidies

Significantly fewer farmers are registering online for the Common Agricultural Policy payments scheme than last year, despite government plans to create an online-only exemplar digital service, Freedom of Information numbers reveal. As of 10 February, just 1,300 farmers have so far registered online with the Rural Payments …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh RLY?

    "We’re also working with a range of identity providers to ensure we offer choice, control and privacy for users."

    Translation: "We spoke to Facebook."

    1. big_D Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Oh RLY?

      Facebook? I thought they were using MySpace and Google Wave!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

    So government chose the least well connected section of society, with the lowest levels of technology engagement within the actual work they do, and the government department with the worst record of ineptitude on simply handing out money, and then they thought "let's create a digital only exemplar project". I suppose it is an example project, but perhaps not quite in the way the originators hoped.

    Does working with government make you stupid, or do they recruit for it?

    1. Bob Wheeler

      Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

      How many times have you seen a pilot of a wonderfully new complex system being trailed by IT savvy/power users who know how to use computers.

      Is it not a valid idea to trail a new system on those with the lowest level of technology engagement, IF they get it to work for them, then everyone else is easy?

      1. Richard Jones 1
        FAIL

        Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

        Alternative Headline,

        'Whitehall Thinkers Shocked To Find Wet String Users Unable To access Broadband'.

        Given that most of the farms are in the countryside and the countryside has crap to no broadband what did these great minds expect?

        Or did they think farmers live and work on the 32nd floor of some tower block in a town centre?

        Perhaps the farmers are at 'the lowest level of technology engagement' hardly surprising if you consider none available broadband to be the pinnacle of technology.

        However, have you seen the average technology in a tractor or harvester these days?

        Farmers use technology that works and if the rural world had access they would be using it as keenly as everyone else

        Based on my experience of rural users they are as keen as mustard not to have to rely on 'trips to town' to do business

        1. tony72

          Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

          During a broadband outage last year, I had no 3G signal either, and I actually had to use dial-up via a 56k modem for a few hours (yes, there are still dial-up ISPs providing payg access). Yes you wouldn't want to access netflix or youtube on it, but to log on to my bank and make a few transactions, it was usable. Not having high-speed broadband shouldn't prevent anyone from logging on to a portal and filling in a few online forms, as long as they've got some sort of internet connection.

          Now I can't claim to know any farmers or rural types, so if a significant number actually don't have any internet, then this is an issue, but I find that hard to believe. And if that is the case, then we should be talking about getting them online, not about using low-tech solutions so they don't have to go online.

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking @tony72

            It all depends.

            If the web-site designers have loaded it with copious numbers of large images, it may actually not be possible to use dial up, at least not if you intend to maintain your sanity.

            I've not seen the Verify web site, so I can't say for certain how heavy that page is.

            From my perspective, there are basically two different types of farm. Large ones, run by technically capable farmers, and small mainly family run farms that may be years behind in the deployment of technology. I have both types in my extended family, and have had to help my father-in-law comply with some of the demands made of them in the past, as even something like deciding what the map reference and acreage of a field is can be a challenge. My father-in-law before he gave up farming would have no idea about how to verify his ID using a service like this. He would rely on a professional like an accountant or other professional to do it for him, like he did with his tax, VAT, and to some extent his subsidiary paperwork. If that avenue was not open, he would have left farming earlier, like so many others.

            It may actually be the case that using a relatively technically challenged group is a good one to test the system out with, but you'd better make sure that there is an emergency catch-net, because in the case of some farms, the EU subsidy is all that separates break-even from loss, and I'm not sure that the banks are compassionate enough to refrain from taking action if loan or other payments are not made because the subsidy payment is delayed.

          2. Mr Humbug

            Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

            The article says that "70,000 farmers registered online last year" but "just 1,300 farmers have so far registered" this year.

            From those statements I would expect that neither a lack of rural broadband nor a lack of technology skills is the problem in this case. Perhaps the new system is just not trusted and not easy to use?

            That's not to try and belittle the problems with rural broadband - it's just that I don't think it's likely to be the main cause of failure here.

        2. ilmari

          Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

          (Not in UK)

          Re farmers using technology that works.. Couldn't agree more. As part time tech support person, the most complex networks/LANs I've encountered with farmers. Recently one told me "I really regret not signing up the cow for fibre optic internet when I had the chance".

          He has fibre to his own house, and a point to point 54Mbps wifi link to the building with the cows some 200m away. There's a "visitor/casual" wifi and lan, and a "infrastructure" LAN, plus home lan+wifi. The infrastructure part of the network is where the milking robot, feed silo management, and god knows what sits. This is, of course, available to him on his smartphone and PC realtime. If a cow gets in an argument with the robot, his phone buzzeds and he can look at the situation and have the robot shoo the cow or bribe it with treats or whatever.

          .. But it'd work much better if it wasnt behind a 54Mbps bottleneck.

          As for government services? Dump all the paperwork and receipts with specialists that can decode and speak governmentese..

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

        Perhaps, but even the most "tech savvy" person will struggle when they don't even have an internet connection. There are still some who don't even have mains electricity!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

          Oddly, in very rural Shropshire last year, the BT supplied broadband was beyond pathetic but Three was providing fast and reliable mobile broadband.

          1. Panicnow

            Re: From the Whitehall Home for the Hard of Thinking

            Try Norfolk...

            No Broadband, no 3G

            Norfolk...ing signal !!!!

  3. Paul 87

    They made a mistake in the press statement. It should have read

    "GOV.Verify is an exciting new way to get you to voluntarily input all your personal details into a central database, which replacements the ID card scheme that got rejected out of hand. We're keen to ensure that every member of the British public is registered so that when we lose the data through Ministerial cock-ups, everyone will be equally disadvantaged

    We hope that you embrace the exciting future where soon, your entire digital lives will be collated in a central location at our secure facility in Cheltenham"

  4. Spearchucker Jones

    "GOV.UK Verify is a new, innovative way..."

    Oh really? It does less than the Government Gateway. What's innovative about writing your own Id federation system that's not industry-proven, has a small subset of industry-established alternatives like Tivoli FIM, ADFS or even (*shudder*) Oracle IF?

  5. Bill Buchan
    Facepalm

    Yeah. Rural Broandband. Its just amazing how many farmers are inconveniently located in rural areas.

    I'd possibly dispute the 'low level of technical..' comment above about farmers. Your modern tractor/combine has more GPS than a stealth bomber did have 10 years ago, and these guys are rather more tech-savvy than most people realise. They just can't connect at any meaningful speed.

    Pity the fibre cabinets being rolled out are absolutely useless in rural areas where telephone-line lengths usually exceed 2 miles. We should follow the Dutch model and run fibre to every home.

    ---* Bill

    http://www.Marykirk.com

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Or the German model of forcing 4G providers to cover rural areas with no wired broadband access...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And in other news...

    "The roll-out of universal credit will cost less than expected and is being carefully delivered "stage-by-stage", the work and pensions secretary says."

    This was posted by dear old Auntie Beeb without any real challenge to the claim. No doubt that any report on the roll-out of the Verify Service by them will also fail to challenge its "success".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    No ones using Verify?

    Can any farmers here confirm this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No ones using Verify?

      I checked with a farmer I know in Wiltshire, visiting the farm at the weekend.

      I assist her with all her IT needs, and she's not using verify.

      She is IT competent as a user.

      Her line length, and its exposure to the elements (outside her property and thus not something she can do much about as there are wayleave issues) is such that she's limited to an unreliable dial-up, and whilst the mobile signal is reasonable for voice if she goes to a particular windows, data is not viable, plus its only a small farm (30 acres) so not exactly able to afford heavy connection costs.

      Like where I live in Essex, its one of the many small businesses that have been told they'll never be upgraded in terms of connectivity as its not commerically viable. I guess in the not too distant future some large agri conglomerate will start borging the smaller farms around where she lives.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slow connection

    Does the Verify website work with Lynx or w3m?

    If it needs graphics and flash (UGH!) then the countryside might as well forget it

    1. Elmer Phud Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Slow connection

      This is an HM.GOV project -- what do you think?

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Slow connection

        Aren't all GOV.UK projects Flashy by default? How else will the tech illiterate Minister sign them off?

        Cue Homer Simpson 'Oooooohhhhhhh Flash' moment

        Ok, I'm outa here. Coat with a Flashlight in the pocket.

        1. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Slow connection

          Government websites generally work very well in lynx. They are very good at ensuring their websites comply with accessibility guidelines, and compatibility with lynx is a good test of that.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong end of the stick for most replies here

    Dig into the details folks and its crystal clear this is nothing whatsoever to do with lack of broadband or tech savvy (and to be fair as one post points out, 70k managed it on the old internet service).

    Its all to do with an utterly useless for purpose complex verification system that simply fails to validate most users due to the ludicrous demands it makes regarding the information that needs to be supplied.

    GDS are good at making a pretty looking web front end. They are clueless when it comes to the back end (they couldn't find the back end of a cow let alone an OLTP system) so they've farmed that out (ha ha) to a hapless third party who doesn't understand the demographic.

    Cluster, meet F......

    (AC because I have met some of the fwits involved with this system)

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Wrong end of the stick for most replies here

      I am inclined to agree with you AC, micro managing crop yields via GPS and Sat photos has been common since the '90s and I knew a couple of relatively small farmers who were writing their own management programmes for livestock at the same time. Farmers are probably the most multi skilled industry of all so tech savvy is unlikely to be the reason for non take up.

      More likely is that they are savvy enough to recognise a waste of time when they see one, having had decades of experience with the EU and MinAg or whatever it's current incarnation is.

      Possibly they also won't want the little photo card that will eventually go with the gov's ID verification scheme which of course won't be an ID card just membership of the online scheme.

  10. Panicnow

    Everyone has to register

    In order to get a farm done, everyone who works on submissions need to be cross registered. thus the farm owner, the farm manager, the accountant and the company secretary need to register.

    With Gateway many just used the one account and shared the password.

    Getting the owners to register is a big problems! one has to track them down in Barbados, Singapore, Beijing or wherever!

  11. Andy Livingstone

    Cannot be that important

    No mention in The Archers.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unlike farmers, there aren't many at GDS that stand out in their field.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not that.

    They switched from Software AG, who were providing a working service for not much money, to a bigger player, who provided the system database and who'd been gradually more and more embarrassed by the rubbish value for money of their much more expensive part of the system, and edged them out.

    However, the big player couldn't get it working. Thus they had to switch it off.

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