MSPs told under-fire IT payment system should be ‘ditched’

Nicola Sturgeon stepped in with emergency funding. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon stepped in with emergency funding. Picture: PA
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A controversial £178million IT system at the centre of a storm over payment hold-ups to farmers should be scrapped after months of problems, MSPs have been told.

Under-fire rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead heard stark warnings of a £300m black hole in the rural economy as he faced MSPs yesterday. He failed to guarantee that out-of-pocket farmers will receive their full European cash payments for this year by a key June deadline. Nicola Sturgeon stepped into the row on Tuesday to pledge the Scottish Government would use its own funds to provide £200m of cash advances as beleaguered farmers prepared to demonstrate outside Parliament today.

But the situation was branded a “national disgrace” by opposition MSPs who are now calling on the ministers to scrap the “failing” £178mFutures IT system set up to administer EU common agricultural policy (CAP) payouts.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott claimed the system crashed on Tuesday and no payments could be made to farmers. This was denied by a Scottish Government who said £850,000 was paid out, but added that staff are “constantly working to improve the IT system.”

But Mr Scott said: “Why doesn’t the government just come clean with all of us, with Parliament and agriculture and admit this computer system doesn’t work. It will never work as intended. They should ditch it and ditch it now.”

Mr Lochhead had earlier stopped short of guaranteeing that all farmers would get their full payments by the June deadline, but said this was the Government’s “determination.”

“We haven’t been progressing as anticipated. As I’ve said many times, this is deeply disappointing.”