Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has written to the Rural Affairs Minister, Fergus Ewing MSP, raising local concerns about the future of farm payments.
At a recent meeting with farming leaders in Orkney, Mr McArthur heard about concerns regarding the future funding landscape for farming, following on from the Brexit vote. While assurances have been given in relation to direct payments up until 2020, there is still no clarity around the future of so-called ‘pillar 2’ funding for wider rural development, including less favoured areas and agri-environment programmes.
It was also suggested that the Scottish Government’s mishandling of last year’s farm payments was exacerbated by a failure to come clean about likely delays. Mr McArthur has sought confirmation from the new Rural Affairs Minister that there will be no repeat of that next time round and urged Mr Ewing to be upfront with the farming community, even if that involves further, unpopular delays to payments next year.
Commenting, Orkney’s MSP said:
“The Scottish Government has been roundly and rightly criticised for the shambles it made of farm payments earlier this year. This caused an unnecessary cash flow crisis for many farm and rural businesses across the country, and the signs are that the IT problems have still not been fully resolved.
“Part of the problem last year was the then Minister’s stubborn insistence that everything was fine and that payments would be made in December, as usual. Not even his own officials believed him, but that failure by Richard Lochhead to come clean about the likely delays prevented farmers, crofters and others awaiting vital support payments to make contingency plans. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
“The current Rural Affairs Minister, Fergus Ewing must now set out a clear and realistic timeframe for making the next round of payments. Rather than say what he thinks farmers want to hear, Mr Ewing needs to tell them what he knows to be the case, even if that involves delays again beyond December.
“Greater clarity is also required around the future of less favoured areas and agri-environment support, following the recent Brexit vote. While the UK Treasury has confirmed that direct farm payments are safeguarded up until 2020, question marks still hang over what will happen to so-called ‘pillar 2’ funding. These payments are vital for many businesses and projects in Orkney. Even if he does not yet have all the answers, Mr Ewing needs to be as open as possible about the funding landscape over the next few years.”