The Scottish Government looks set to escape a multi-million-pound fine over the European Union farm payments fiasco thanks to the subsidies being successfully processed elsewhere in the UK.
Just ahead of last night’s midnight deadline for processing the payments, the Scottish Government was still struggling to meet the target of paying 95.24 per cent of CAP subsidies to farmers.
In Scotland, around 90 per cent of the payments were expected to have been processed by midnight. South of the Border, however, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has paid 99.2 per cent of CAP subsidies in England – meaning the target was likely to be met for the UK as a whole.
Earlier this week it came to light that the Scottish Government had contacted the European Commission (EC) to seek a four-month extension to the deadline. Audit Scotland had estimated fines for missing the deadlines this year could run to £60m.
This year’s missed payments follow last year’s controversy that saw the payments delayed for farmers as a result of problems with the Scottish Government’s £178 million IT system responsible for delivering the payments.
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said yesterday: “The SNP government’s handling of farm payments has been a fiasco from start to finish. It now appears the Scottish Government has been saved from paying a massive fine because the performance in other parts of the UK has been far better and has ensured the targets for payments across the UK has been passed.
“It is another embarrassment for the SNP. It is now incumbent on the Nationalists to sort out the remaining payments as soon as possible so rural Scotland isn’t damaged any more.”
Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have asked the European Commission for an extension to the deadline, and are hopeful that late payment penalties can be avoided.”
Earlier, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We have made a clear commitment to do all we can to make the 2016 payments by the end of today and we are doing all we can to deliver as many payments as possible. I expect the vast majority of farmers and crofters will receive all their basic and greening payments by the end of today.
“As of close of business last night [Thursday], we have made BPS, Greening and Young Farmer payments to 15991 farmers and crofters valued at £331m. This represents around 87.3 per cent of expected total payments for those schemes.”