In his latest statement of intent on the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS), Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary appears to have upped his ambitions.
Whereas previously he seemed to have accepted the need to follow EU regulations, which will still apply during Brexit transition, by reducing the payment to 80 per cent in 2019 and 40 per cent in 2020, he is now to attempt to keep the support at 100 per cent.
Mr Ewing has his eye on Lord Bew’s forthcoming review of internal funding between the UK administrations as a source of the finance needed to keep LFASS payments at £65m per year.
Speaking after a meeting with NFU Scotland’s Less Favoured Area Committee, the National Beef Association and the National Sheep Association (Scotland) in Stirling, Mr Ewing said: “For scheme year 2019 (payment spring 2020) the rules stipulate a maximum of 80 per cent, but I am determined to find a means of providing funding by other routes which maintains the real level of support at 100 per cent approximately, rather than see funding go down to 80 per cent, which would apply were we simply to follow the LFASS rules and do nothing more.”
The same ‘determination’ would be applied to the 2020 scheme year (paid spring 2021).
“This means, that as far as it is possible, the real level of funding support will be maintained at approximately 100 per cent for the next two scheme years,” said Mr Ewing.
“Importantly, as I have previously said, any additional funding that could arise from Lord Bew’s review will be prioritised for this purpose.”
Mr Ewing also reiterated his ‘strong belief’ that the UK Government should return the £160 million due to Scottish farmers under the internal allocations of EU funding made in 2013.
This is in spite of Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove insisting that Lord Bew’s review will not be retrospective.
Scotland’s representative on Lord Bew’s review body is former NFU Scotland president Jim Walker.