Both the UK and Welsh Governments are taking steps to cut red tape for farmers after the Brexit transition period ends, proving that leaving the EU can reduce our bureaucratic burden, says Janet Finch-Saunders, Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Minister.
The potential to reduce bureaucratic burdens on farmers helped fertilise the Eurosceptic seed across many rural corners of our United Kingdom.
Here in Wales I know that while direct payments were and are of vital importance to the stability of the agricultural sector, the system was far from perfect and one which caused serious frustration.
One aspect of ineffective and unnecessary European bureaucracy came to light last week, with both the UK and Welsh Governments announcing plans to simplify the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and cut red tape faced by farmers during the agricultural transition period.
This is only possible here in Wales thanks to the UK Agriculture Bill.
Schedule 5 includes powers for Welsh Ministers to amend and extend direct EU legislation, remove or reduce burdens on persons applying for direct payments, and modify legislation which relates to support for rural development.
The Welsh Government’s proposals for a simplified BPS scheme to deliver direct agricultural support to farmers until the Agriculture (Wales) Bill is available, include a plan to allow Welsh Ministers flexibility to control any unspent funding allocated to BPS.
On first appearance this would seem to represent significant improvement on the scandal seen in previous years, when unspent funding allocated to BPS was retained by the undemocratic European Commission.
However, is giving our 21-year-old Welsh Government control over unallocated funding reassuring?
When it comes to allocating rural funding, the Welsh Labour-led Government has made serious mistakes.
The Auditor General for Wales recently found it awarded £53 million of RDP funds without ensuring the grants would deliver value for money.
More so, the Auditor’s report disclosed that the Welsh Government invited funding applications from selected bodies without documenting why they were selected, gave additional funds to existing projects without first checking their success, and exercised insufficient programme and project oversight.
Every penny of taxpayers’ money needs to be spent carefully and effectively.
Time after time the Welsh Government keeps proving it is fiscally irresponsible.
On a more positive note, we are set to see simplification for the 600 farms with land on either side of the Wales-England border, and the removal of greening requirements which offer limited additional environmental benefit to Wales.
The European Court of Auditors found greening led to changes in farming practices on only around five percent of all EU farmland, and the positive impact on farmland biodiversity could not be clearly demonstrated.
I agree it is sensible for both the UK and Welsh governments to stop the EU’s ineffective greening, and welcome the fact that the budget will be included as part of funding allocated to BPS.
However, the changes are far from perfect, because while they could see young farmers lose support, the funding would be more easily accessible to non-active farmers, such as claimants who operate railways, waterworks, and real estate services.
Approximately 84 percent of the land area in Wales is used for agriculture, greater than the other devolved nations.
When considering the importance of direct payments to the stability of farming, I do think BPS payments should be prioritised for real active farmers.
It is vitally important that as many people as possible consider and respond to the Welsh Government’s consultation on Sustainable Farming and Our Land: Proposals to continue and simplify Agricultural Support for Farmers and the Rural Economy.
You have until October23 2020 to submit your comments, and are more than welcome to contact me with any feedback you may have by emailing Janet.Finch-Saunders@Senedd.Cymru.
Janet can be found tweeting at @JFinchSaunders