Farming: Sears partnership aims to cut red tape and speed delivery

A HAPPY mood prevailed at the second day of the Royal Highland Show yesterday, as its avenues thronged with both professional farmers and those interested in the industry.

Rules and regulations have been the bane of the rural sector for years, but the Scottish Government pledged on election to bring some sense of order to the actions and subsequent inspections imposed on the countryside.

Yesterday was delivery time, with the formal launch of Sears (Scotland's Environment and Rural Services) by Richard Lochhead, the secretary for rural affairs.

He said: "We are committed to making government in Scotland more effective.

"Sears will do just that. It will reduce duplication, bureaucracy and in turn deliver greater efficiency, effectiveness and, importantly, speed of delivery."

Sears is a partnership of nine organisations, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Crofters Commission, Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate and the Deer Commission.

The target of Sears is that there will be 2,000 fewer inspections in its first year of operation.

There should also be a reduction in the burden of information demanded from land managers, with much of the data shared between the various agencies.

Mike Russell, the environment minister, who chaired the project reference group and steered the launch, said: "Sears will speed up delivery by reducing processing delays.

"New procedures have been worked up to streamline internal consultation and joint guidance on specific activities, such as bracken spraying, where previously there was unnecessary overlap.

"It is fantastic how much has been achieved so far. The service will be more user-friendly. Access to information and advice will also be improved through a 24/7 contact centre and a web portal."

Dr Campbell Gemmell, the chief executive of Sepa, who chairs the Sears front-line delivery project board, added: "We have developed what I believe to be a strong and credible package of actions, based on collective understanding of the issues facing customers and information providers.

"We have achieved a lot, but there remains much to be done. Our priority for the next few months will be to embed the Sears philosophy throughout our nine organisations.

"We will also be looking for further opportunities to simplify our processes and combine our efforts to the benefit of land managers."

The most important aspect as far as farmers are concerned is the early approval and prompt payment of the range of support measures to which they are entitled.

Andy Robb, who heads the relevant department within the Scottish Government, said: "I feel certain that in future we will be able to provide a better service to all rural land managers. We will learn from each other."