Incompetence and indifference starving rural economy

It seems that not a day goes by when I’m contacted by farmers and crofters in my ward with justifiable concerns about single farm payments and the plight of our rural economy.

Unfortunately the bad news just keeps rolling in as the Scottish Government could face a fine of up to £700,000 for the late payment of European subsidies to farmers this year. The penalty, estimated at between £500,000 and £700,000, relates to delays to 2016 Common Agricultural Policy.

The figure is on top of potential financial penalties of around £5 million as a result of late payments in 2015 after delays caused by the introduction of a new £178 million IT system. A total of 90.4% of payments due to farmers were paid by the June deadline, with the European Commission rejecting a request from Scottish Ministers for an extension to the payment window.

Even worse the Scottish Government could also face separate EC financial penalties, known as disallowance, if weaknesses in the administration and control of CAP payments are identified. A recent assessment from Audit Scotland warned the figure for this could be as high as a massive £60 million.

To add insult to injury the SNP has announced cuts worth tens of millions of pounds for projects aimed at helping Scotland’s farming communities.

In a recent written statement to the Scottish Parliament, rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing said he was slashing support for less favourable areas by £40 million, with a further £42 million being removed from climate change schemes.

Along with the SNP’s aforementioned mishandling of hundreds of millions of pounds in Common Agricultural Policy payments due to a botched IT system this makes for a double hammer blow for our framers, crofters and the wider economy in rural Scotland.

Most shocking of all is that as part of the revision, the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme will have money reduced from £459 million to £419 million. That’s money which supports businesses in areas of the country which are harder to farm successfully, particularly in remote areas.

Due to mixture of incompetence and indifference we in rural Scotland are having our economy starved by an urban, central belt and separatism obsessed Scottish Government. We in Kintyre, the Islands and the rest of Argyll and Bute deserve better.

Cllr Alastair Redman