Scottish Government’s rural IT system was still not delivering value for money and continued to struggle to process support payments, a damning report highlighted.
The document published by Scotland’s Auditor General was the latest of five reports into the beleaguered £180 million Common Agricultural Policy Futures Programme.
The report found the difficulties encountered in previous years continued to have a ‘significant impact on the progression of current applications for payments’.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “If this IT system had been a tractor I had bought then it would have been returned to the dealer years ago along with a demand for full refund.
“The worrying note for all Scottish taxpayers is further costs may yet be needed, on top of the £180m already invested in this lame duck, and fines amounting to £60m may yet be incurred by Scottish Government should the system fail to deliver payments ahead of EU deadlines.”
But Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing defended the IT programme and said it should be retained despite industry calls for it to overhauled.
Mr Ewing said: “The IT system has been independently reviewed as architecturally sound and should be retained.
“We are now working with our delivery partners to improve confidence in timelines and quality of IT delivery, as well as increasing the robustness of the IT platform, reflecting the fact that system availability is currently exceeding 99 per cent.
"And as the report acknowledges, the Single Application Form application process has improved.”
Mr Ewing admitted there was ‘still work to do’, but said he was disappointed the report did not ‘fully reflect’ the progressing being made.
About 1,700 Scottish farmers were still waiting for payment amounting to £12m of 2015 Less Favoured Areas Support, some two years after they lodged applications.
Hill Sheep Scheme payments for 2016, worth about £6m, have yet to begin.
The default position of Scottish Government, firstly under Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and then his successor Fergus Ewing, has been to issue loans but that has failed to placate NFU Scotland’s chief executive Scott Walker.
“Regardless of the current approach involving loans and part payments the fact remains that no-one has received either their full 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) or greening payment,” he said.
“There has been talk of 80 per cent or 90 per cent part payments but some claimants have received nowhere near this amount.”
There is very little time to rectify this with all Basic Payment Scheme and greening money due to be paid by June 30 if EU fines are to be avoided. The auditor general has warned that these disallowances could total £60m or more.
Reporting to the Scottish Parliament, Scotland’s Auditor General Caroline Gardner concluded the £180m Common Agricultural Policy Futures Programme had failed to delivered value for money.
The five-year programme designed to disburse support payments to rural businesses officially ended in April this year (2017) but the report recognised it would need at least another £33m spent on it to make it fit for purpose.
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