Despite only having been in the job a week, new Scottish Government rural economy cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing was yesterday exhibiting the sort of willingness to roll up his sleeves and get on with the job that would be welcomed by many farmers.
Speaking on his first farm visit since taking up the post – although he has already met NFU Scotland and visited department area offices – Ewing made it clear where his first priority lay.
“Having spent the past few days getting up to speed I am acutely aware that sorting out the CAP payment situation will require my immediate attention,” he said.
“The issue has been the cause of financial hardship and much anger and frustration as to how the situation arose. A lot of farmers have lost faith in the Scottish Government over this.
“But I’m not aiming to soft soap the industry or feed it flannel – our efforts will be focused on providing solutions and delivering payments.”
Ewing was visiting John and Andrew Kinnaird’s farm near Haddington, where he said that the “buck stopped at his door”. He added that he would be making a statement on the issue to parliament next week, but emphasised that, first and foremost, he would be concentrating on getting full payments out the door. He said that only after this had been completed would he turn his attention to recriminations, investigating how the IT problems had arisen and the “lessons learned exercise”.
However, he was unequivocal in his answer to apocryphal claims that some farmers still hadn’t received any payments from the Scottish Government:
“As far as we are concerned, apart from those who decided to decline our offer of an advance loan, every farmer should now have received monies equivalent to a substantial proportion of their support payment,” he said.
“If anyone feels they are not in this position then I would urge them to contact their local area offices – or even myself – and we can discuss the details.”
The cabinet secretary was also swift to praise those working in department offices who had been dealing with people who were in “states of despair”.“Many of these staff should have the recognition and credit they deserve for dealing with an immensely difficult and stressful situation when the problems lay elsewhere,” he said.
Away from the support issues, Ewing said he believed that farmers’ fundamental job was to provide food for the nation and he would be doing all he could to drive the entire rural economy forward.
“Many farmers have great drive and enthusiasm to develop their businesses and we will do our best to lift the barriers which might be holding them back.”
While environmental and health and safety regulations were crucial, he gave an undertaking not to gold plate them – and to ensure that they were both appropriate and proportional.
“We want to play the role of enablers rather than policemen,” he said.