New Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has announced at least £50 million in Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) top ups will be delivered to Scottish farmers in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, Mr Ewing confirmed farmers and crofters would soon begin receiving the second instalment of their BPS payment, following the delivery of initial, in many cases badly delayed, first instalments of about 80 per cent of the total.
The Government no longer has to worry about the prospects of EU fines for missing the official June 30 EU payment deadline, after EU Commissioner Phil Hogan effectively extended the deadline until mid-October.
This prompted calls from NFU Scotland for the Scottish Government not to use the extension as an excuse for further delaying outstanding payments.
Mr Ewing said: “I am absolutely determined to make full direct payments to as many Scottish farmers as possible by June 30. This is my utmost priority.
“All eligible farmers should have already received a substantial payment from the Scottish Government worth 80 per cent of their estimated entitlement, unless they chose to opt out of the nationally funded loan scheme.”
He described implementing the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, with its ‘requirement to verify and check what is being claimed for each and every square metre of farmland’ in Scotland before settling the balance of payments, as a ‘gargantuan administrative challenge’.
“Thanks to the relentless efforts of staff in area offices and our Edinburgh headquarters, this process is nearing the very final stages of completion,” he added.
NFUS president Allan Bowie said the announcement meant ‘the sizeable hole in the Scottish rural economy is slowly being filled’.
He said: “The IT debacle, which led to costly and protracted delays in the delivery of CAP support to the agricultural and crofting sectors, has had a huge impact.
“These payments will be welcomed by all and will be a great relief to many. It means we are getting closer to the end but NFUS will keep the pressure on the Scottish Government and their officials until all of Scotland’s farmers and crofters are paid what they are due.”
He encouraged NFUS members with more complex cases who had still not received a penny to contact the union so it could take their case direct to the Scottish Government.
Mr Bowie stressed lessons needed to be learned, changes had to be made and people must be held to account to ensure there was no repeat in 2016.
He said: “The Cabinet Secretary Mr Ewing is committed to fixing the deeply flawed system and, once the job is done and final payments have been made, there needs to be a wholesale review of the programme’s failings. Lessons need to be learned, changes need to be made and people need to be held to account.
“We simply can’t have the same problems happening again with the next round of payments. Scottish Government must make a new contract with farmers and crofters on future support payment delivery."