The failure of the Scottish Government to meet its own common agricultural policy payments timetable has led to further criticism of the new £180 million computer system – and a call for a ministerial statement to be made on support delivery.
NFU Scotland yesterday said that the Scottish Government had promised to pay out the first instalment to a quarter of Scottish farmers before the end of 2015 – with the “vast majority” receiving 70 per cent of their due the end of January.
However, the union said that only 18 per cent of Scottish farmers had received their part payment by the end of 2015 – leaving four out of every five applicants in the dark over when the first tranche of payments would arrive.
“Our clear position is that 90 per cent of business should be receiving 90 per cent of their basic payment scheme (BPS) and greening payments by the end of January,” said union president Allan Bowie.
“Anything less is unacceptable.”
And a meeting of the union’s east central region revealed that the recent issue of letters intended to provide an estimate of entitlement values to farmers had added to the confusion. It was claimed that it looked like the information had been issued by the department simply to meet the deadline set by the EU of the end of 2015 for informing farmers of their likely support levels.
While almost a third of those at the meeting said that they had yet to receive the communication, many others claimed that the figures were “wildly inaccurate” and that whole land parcels had often been left off the calculation.
Former union vice-president Peter Stewart said that some of the letters had been “wildly wrong” and one had informed a producer that he was to receive nothing.
“And when the authorities are contacted they simply say that the information is only meant to be illustrative and that they intend to sort it out before March. Given their performance so far that doesn’t instil much confidence or reduce producers’ worries,” he said.
Bowie told the meeting that while the extent of the problem had not yet been made clear and said the union would be taking the issue up with the Scottish Government, especially as the information contained in the letters could prove critical when producers tried to organise overdraft facilities to tide them over until support payments were made.
Aberfeldy farmer Martin Kennedy, chairman of the union’s less favoured areas committee, said that on hill land the decision taken to reduce the area but increase the payments – to build in a safety factor – might account for some of the discrepancies, although no indication of this was given in the letter.