With rising disquiet over the deal announced last week on Scotland’s share of the new common agricultural policy (CAP) cash, NFU Scotland yesterday held a crucial meeting with Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael.
Central to their discussions was the additional money allocated by Europe to help member states towards a target level of support of €196 (£164.40) per hectare by 2019.
Currently Scottish farmers get about €100 per hectare when their single farm payments are translated to an acreage basis, one of the lowest rates in the EU, and it was expected Scotland would get a larger share of the UK allocation of so-called “convergence” money to help towards the €196 target.
Following yesterday’s meeting, NFU Scotland said it believed that the budget allocation announced last week had presented an opportunity to start that process.
Instead, the convergence uplift received by the UK was shared between the regions in what the union described as a “desperately disappointing” decision.
Scotland already has a promise from UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, that there will be a review of internal allocation of CAP funds in 2016 and this would be concluded by 2017.
But after yesterday’s talks, NFUS boss Nigel Miller revealed that the union had asked that the money that would have been coming north under convergence now came north under a new heading of an “advanced budget transfer”. It is estimated this sum would amount to €11 million in 2015.
“After the deeply disappointing announcement on Friday, we secured this early meeting to underline the importance of moving the convergence process on,” said Miller. “That is a process that must see money flow into Scotland if we are to meet EU objectives on convergence.
“We need to fully address the competitive disadvantage that Scottish producers are facing.
“The announcement of the review process means that, for the first time, the issue of convergence is being taken seriously. However, that review process must be robust, it must be made transparent; have an independent review group to determine budget allocations and have a fixed end date for when the transition will be completed.
“We have laid down a marker stating that, until the review is complete, there should be an advanced budget transfer of €11m to Scotland to provide a stable platform for our producers. This is the convergence money the UK government will receive in 2015.”
The added complication for Scotland is that the convergence money is only due on an area basis and Scotland will have to have their conversion from historic support payments towards area payments settled before the convergence money is applicable.
It is believed the union will also approach Europe to ensure that the move taken by the UK is legal.
Meanwhile the Welsh farm minister, Alun Davies, welcomed the UK deal. He told Welsh Assembly members how he had helped resist demands from Scotland for extra support.
“Scotland made a vociferous case to secure a much larger share of the UK budget but I opposed that because I felt it was unfair to Wales.
“I am very pleased that the Secretary of State agrees and has split the UK budget in the way I proposed.”