Holyrood holds up hands over late farm payments

The new Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, has admitted that late CAP payments to farmers have not been made quickly enough.

It comes ahead of the referendum on Britain’s future in the EU, and after the finance watchdog Audit Scotland described “serious cost and operational issues” in the payment system.

So far, only around 80% of Scottish farmers have received their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments.

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The Scottish government said that it was focused on paying crofters and farmers before the 30 June deadline.

And if the system does not meet European Commission regulations by that date, the Scottish government itself could face a penalty of between £40m and £125m.

Under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), about £4.6bn in European and Scottish government funding are expected to be paid out between 2015 and 2020.

Mr Ewing, in a ministerial statement on Tuesday, May 31, said that the government was “sorry” for the delays, and promised to make the delivery of 2015’s payments a priority.

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Addressing his fellow MSPs at Holyrood, Mr Ewing stressed he is confident everything possible is being done to meet the June deadline

Caroline Gardner, Scotland’s Auditor General, said this week:“The CAP Futures programme has been beset with difficulties from the start. These problems, and the way they have been dealt with by the Scottish government, are a serious concern, particularly as the programme continues to face major obstacles and is unlikely to deliver value for money.”

Ms Gardener added it is vital the government ensures the IT system is fit for purpose

“The scale of the challenge ahead should not be underestimated,” she said. “It’s vital that the Scottish government take steps now to ensure the IT system is fit for purpose, and fully assess the potential financial impact if it’s unable to meet the Commission’s regulations within the programme’s remaining budget.”

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A Berwickshire landowner also had his say on the issue in the House of Lords this week.

Speaking on May 25, Lord Palmer of Manderston, Scotland’s former representative to the European Landowners’ Organisation, described the situation as “unacceptable”.

He said: “The distribution of the single farm payment to farmers in England, Wales and Scotland is another unacceptable scandal. It is causing real hardship for those of us affected.

“We live in a crazy agricultural environment, with bottled water being more expensive than milk.”