The Scottish Government is taking action to ease cash flow issues in Scottish agriculture after criticism of long waits for payments.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has announced a scheme – backed by £20 million in Scottish Government funding - to enable more farmers and crofters to access loans while waiting for their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments.
Speaking at the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) annual conference in St Andrews this week, Mr Lochhead confirmed more than 7,300 payments have now been authorised, which equates to about 40 per cent of the eligible claims.
He also stressed the Scottish Government continues to do everything in its power make payments as soon as possible against the challenge of difficult CAP reforms.
The Rural Affairs Secretary said: “I fully recognise the cash flow issues facing Scottish agriculture as a result of difficult market and weather conditions coinciding with the biggest CAP reform ever.
“The Scottish Government continues to do everything in our power to get first instalments out to as many people as we can by the end of March and the balance of payments as soon as possible after that.
“We are making progress. However 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 – and I am aware that as a result some farmers and crofters are facing hardship.
“We will work with NFUS, banks and others to finalise the detail of the scheme and ensure it is available as quickly as possible and simple to access.”
The news came after stinging criticism of the payment process, including calls from local Conservative MSP John Lamont for Mr Lochhead to “come clean” over the situation.
Mr Lamont said: “Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead should come clean to farmers about when they are going to receive this much needed money, which was of course due in full in December.
“In England and Wales, over 75% of farmers have received full payments, yet under the SNP the majority of farmers are yet to get a single penny.
“The Minister would have been better to hold his hands up from the beginning to say that payments would be late instead of constantly promising money would come on time and then being forced to delay the timetable.”