SCOTLAND’S farmers should not have to wait much longer for a decision from the UK government on the allocation of additional European Union funding to support Scottish farming, new Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said yesterday.
At his second meeting with NFU Scotland since succeeding Borders MP Michael Moore last week, the Orkney and Shetland MP said an early decision was required as the proposals would be subject to consultation before being submitted to the European Commission by the end of the year.
“Farmers shouldn’t have to wait very much longer,” said Carmichael. “It is very much a live issue but I don’t think it’s a good idea to conduct negotiations in the pages of the press.”
He was speaking during a visit to the farm of NFUS North-east area chairman, Charlie Adam, at Braeside, Alford, Aberdeenshire.
Adam said the main topic of discussion had been the danger of losing critical mass in the meat industry as a result of the continuing decline in the national beef herd and sheep flock.
Carmichael went as far as saying he was “not unsympathetic” to the arguments being put forward for additional support for Scottish farmers but it was important for the government to get it right to avoid any legal challenge which could finish up in the courts.
“It’s not just a political issue but a legal one,” he said. “We are entering a very different world under the new Common Agricultural Policy. The application of regional policy in the implementation of the CAP will be one of the last battles on agricultural policy for a few years. All the options will have to be considered and the decisions we make must count.”
The CAP agreement allows the UK to allocate up to 8 per cent of the Single Farm Payment as direct support for livestock production (so-called coupled payments) and NFUS wants to see this calculation based on the UK budget ceiling rather than a Scottish ceiling which would give the Scottish Government greater flexibility in applying coupled payments.
UK Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, has indicated he will not use the coupling option in England which could release additional funds for Scotland.
NFUS president Nigel Miller said an increased coupled payment could be a “real game-changer” for Scotland as it would allow the Scottish Government to supplement low area payments by increasing payments to active livestock farmers.
The UK has also been granted an additional €230 million (£195m) over the next five years designed to even up area payments throughout the UK. A cross-party letter signed by SNP, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem agricultural spokespersons, including Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, was sent to the UK government last week demanding that all the extra money should come to Scotland as the only reason the UK qualifies for the funding is because of Scotland’s low payments under the current system.