Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has apologised to farmers for delays to CAP payments which have left parts of the industry at crisis point and has confirmed a £20 million cash injection to help those most in need.
Addressing NFU Scotland’s AGM in St Andrew’s today (February 12), Mr Lochhead admitted the payment roll-out fiasco had created ‘financial difficulties’ across the sector, adding he was concerned about the knock-on impact on other schemes, including the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) and the coupled support schemes.
He said the Scottish Government had earmarked £20 million to enable the farmers and crofters facing delays to access loans to tide them over until BPS payments come though.
He also reassured farmers Holyrood would work with the banking sector and the union to ensure access to the funding was available as quickly as possible.
Mr Lochhead told a packed AGM that more than 7,300 payments had already been paid, equating to more than 40 per cent of the 18,000 eligible claims.
“We are making progress,” said Mr Lochhead, who seemed to defend the government’s handling of the BPS roll-out and highlighted the design complexities of the scheme due to it having so many different requirements.
He added: “The extreme complexity of the policy we agreed with industry in Scotland – which is being delivered by a brand new IT system that we are constantly working to improve – means it is taking longer than expected to process applications. I am aware that as a result some farmers and crofters are facing hardship.
“Today we have six schemes – basic payment, greening, young farmers top-up, mainland beef, island beef and upland sheep – every one of which involved geographical targeting.
“I fully accept the current situation is not good enough, and I am sorry that we are not getting payments out the door more quickly.
“We all knew there was a high risk to the payments timetable due to the move away from historic payments and the decisions we took here in Scotland to meet the industry’s needs.”
It came after a leaked SNP document last week suggested the union was partly to blame for the payment delays.
NFUS chief executive Scott Walker and president Allan Bowie both moved to address the insinuation.
Mr Walker told the AGM: “The bottom line is that it’s not us who have failed to deliver, it’s them [Scottish Government] who have failed to deliver. If they try and deflect it on us, I will not have it.”
Both Mr Walker and the Scottish Beef Association have called for an inquiry into the failings of the IT system, which has cost about £180 million to create.
A farmer member of the audience suggested the Scottish Government ’should ask for its money back’.