THE new Lib Dem spokesman for rural affairs will focus on three main areas of action to support farmers.
Former farmer Jim Hume, of Sundhope, Selkirk, will try to swing the CAP reform in Scotland’s favour. He will push for the grocery ombudsman – the subject of a bill before Westminster – to have power to change the unbalanced supplier/supermarket relationship. And he wants to help farmers be able to convert underused farming buildings to homes more easily.
He told TheSouthern this week: “The rural economy is vitally important for the Borders. Farming and agriculture form such a huge part of Borders life and it’s critical that government policy at UK and European level supports the sector.”
He said the key ongoing issue to the region’s farmers is the reform of the CAP.
He went on: “Crucially, a recent redraft of the Dess report (the first response to EC suggestions on how to reform the CAP) says CAP supports driving competitiveness through innovation, backs incentives to help farmers become more sustainable and competitive, and calls for a fairer distribution of direct payments, which would be of significant benefit to Scottish farmers.
“It also recognises the vital role of LFA (Less Favoured Area) support in securing the future of areas of natural disadvantage, which is so important for parts of the Borders.”
Mr Hume promised: “My colleague, George Lyon, in Europe and I in Holyrood will continue to press the case for Scotland getting its fair share from the new CAP.”
He welcomed the UK government’s progress on the industry’s long-awaited grocery ombudsman with the recent introduction of the bill to create the supermarket watchdog.
He said: “We have to address the imbalance that still exists in the unfair supply chain which until now has so rarely favoured producers.”
“This bill must have the teeth to make a real and fair change to how things stand and I will be calling on my colleagues at Westminster to ensure this happens as soon as possible.”
And perhaps bringing in another of his new roles in the party, that of housing spokesperson, Mr Hume hopes to help farmers to use old buildings and provide homes.
He said: “I’m keen to see the use of planning regulations to create an innovative ‘Home on the Farm’ scheme for more affordable homes from disused and under-used farm buildings, giving farmers a new income, ensuring farm succession and providing homes for local people. This is an idea already endorsed by the rural affairs secretary and I intend to push this forward.”
As one of only five Lib Dems returned to the Scottish Parliament after last month’s election, Mr Hume was appointed spokesperson for rural affairs, the environment, housing and transport.
At the time he said: “There are significant issues around affordable housing and the need for good transport links in rural areas like the Borders in particular.
“The rural economy is vitally important for the south of Scotland as a whole and I’m keen to press the case for job creation through inward investment for small enterprise and key sectors like textiles, as well as support for farming, and forestry.”
Mr Hume is a past Lothian and Borders NFU chairman, former chairman of NFU Scotland’s environment and land use committee and a past director of the union.