SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has maintained his criticism of the Scottish Government’s handling of agricultural subsidies after a loan scheme was again introduced for farmers and crofters waiting on payments.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing confirmed on Tuesday that loans will be made available in the autumn, with 90 percent of Basic Payment Scheme support due to be delivered to eligible applicants in November.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick, however, welcomed news of the loan scheme, saying it was a vital way of plugging some farmers’ financial gaps.
In August it was revealed that just under ten per cent of farmers and crofters in Shetland were still waiting on payments due to be paid by the end of June as the government continued to experience problems with a new £178m IT system designed to administer the subsidies.
On Tuesday Ewing unveiled a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “stabilisation plan” which included the loan scheme, clearer payment schedules and new customer service standards.
There was also confirmation that Less Favoured Area Support Scheme 2016 payments will start at the end of September and that 2017 payments are expected to start in May next year.
Ewing said the plan will “produce a leaner service that better helps customers to understand what to expect and when, when applying for future funding, enabling them to plan ahead.”
NFU’s McCornick said the secretary’s announcement showed a “clear commitment” to the rural economy.
“Loan schemes have proved effective in tackling the many difficulties experienced in delivering CAP payments under the 2015 and 2016 schemes,” he said on Tuesday.
“NFU Scotland had urged the cabinet secretary to once again consider a national scheme for 2017 to drive up producer confidence and give a lift to the rural economy after a very difficult year.
“In his statement, the cabinet secretary was candid about the challenges he, and his staff, continue to face in completing the necessary improvements needed to the IT delivery system but he has also shown a clear commitment to the wider rural economy with his announcement today.”
But Scott was not impressed and called the Scottish Government’s administration of payments a “financial scandal”.
“An IT system to make payments to farmers and crofters should be a straightforward piece of government business,” he said.
“But £180 million and three years later, the Scottish Government have now confirmed that the computer still does not work.”
“I along with many others, encouraged Fergus Ewing to ditch the IT system when he took over from Richard Lochhead as Scotland’s agriculture minister.
“For whatever reason he has not done so. And on and on this goes. Fergus Ewing told parliament that he is now having to spend £10 million a year on maintaining this IT system. It is nothing short of a financial scandal.
“I am sure that Audit Scotland, who monitor government spending, will raise all their previous concerns about this never ending drain on the agriculture budget which benefits no one apart from IT specialists and lawyers.”