Nicola Sturgeon vows to improve farm payments system

Nicola Sturgeon was quizzed on rural issues at FMQs. Picture: Greg Macvean
Nicola Sturgeon was quizzed on rural issues at FMQs. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The seemingly never-ending list of problems with farm support payments has destroyed all faith in the ability of the Scottish Government’s current system to ever deliver them properly, the Scottish Parliament heard yesterday.

Last week’s news of the overpayment by £746,000 to 166 farmers and the data protection breach in which hundreds of email addresses were released were cited as just some examples of the Scottish Government’s recent blunders by Conservative MSP Peter Chapman during First Minister’s Questions.

This continued failure is damaging our whole rural economy

Mike Rumbles

Earlier, NFU Scotland called for a “step-change” from the Scottish Government over support delivery. President Allan Bowie said: “The level of frustration and lack of trust in Scottish Government’s ability to properly deliver payments across all schemes in a timely manner remains unprecedented.”

READ MORE: Top civil servant cannot rule out more farm payment errors

However, responding during FMQs, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her government was “absolutely focused” on delivering next year’s payments on time, and said it was crucial farmers had confidence in the scheme to deliver Common Agricultural Policy support measures.

Sturgeon said her government had accepted the recommendations made by Audit Scotland in an investigation into the IT delivery system and said internal actions were being undertaken by officials to ensure support would be delivered by the end of June.

She said that over the past month more than 12,500 farmers had now received national loans totalling £256 million against their 2016 payments.

But the attack was continued by Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles, who told the parliament that such was the lack of faith in the system that almost a third of Scottish farmers had decided not to draw down the loans which had been made available to them.

He said this lack of faith meant that £200m worth of funding which would normally be injected into the rural economy in December was instead sitting in the government’s accounts.

He added: “This continued failure to deliver farm entitlements on time is damaging our whole rural economy.”

Stating that the government couldn’t make farmers take up the loans, and apologising once again for the problems caused by last year’s delivery problems, Sturgeon said she was determined lessons would be learned and the system put right to ensure payments would be made by the deadline next year.

Speaking later in the day Chapman – himself a farmer – said that the SNP government’s handling of farm subsidy payments for the past year had been “an absolute disaster”.

He said: “Ministers have been forced back to parliament time after time to defend the latest blunders, but NFU Scotland said today that the level of frustration among farmers remains unprecedented.

“It is vital that in 2017 we see the government get its act together on farm payments and prevent any further problems.”

He said that this did not just mean getting the payments in on time, but also providing the correct information so that farmers knew what they are getting and under which scheme.

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