SCOTLAND was yesterday hit with a fine of almost £8 million over a long-running dispute regarding the implementation and regulation of European Union support.
The fine relates to inspections carried out in 2003-4 where the EU claimed the Scottish Government gave farmers too much advance notice of on-farm livestock inspections; where Scottish Government inspectors allowed grant aid to be paid on cattle that had lost their official ear-tags and where the Scottish Government had failed to increase the inspection level from 5 per cent to 10 per cent when the level of farmer error was beyond an acceptable level.
These failings were picked up during an EU audit in 2006 but it has taken six years to confirm the level of funding to be withheld or disallowed
Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said that, while the “disallowance” dated back to practices in 2006, any funding withheld in the current difficult financial climate was unwelcome.
He said: “However the EC has been slow to progress this matter, taking six years from initial audit to confirming the level of funding to be withheld. We will continue to robustly defend our position in the current programme and press the case for a more reasonable audit regime in the next common agricultural policy programme.
“We will continue to improve our practices to reduce the risk of future disallowance. In particular, we have improved our inspections to ensure cattle are correctly identified and the correct level of inspections are carried out. Inspections should be unannounced in principle ,however, due to the remote and island nature of many of farms, this is not always possible in practice.”
He also promised to work closely with the farming industry to explain the reasons for carrying out such inspections as well as emphasising that cooperation with these strict rules was a fundamental condition of receiving EU aid.
The fine imposed on Scotland was part of £200m “disallowance” package to be recovered from 14 member states.
The most significant individual fine was a £70m bill charged to Greece for non-compliant reduction of the minimum yield for dried grapes. Greece also faced a £20m fine for weaknesses in flock registers.
A £70m fine was imposed on Poland for deficiencies in checks of the initial application and in the approval of the business plan for semi-subsistence farms.