Farming: War of words over rural development

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BUDGET figures released by the European Commission showing a drop in the cash the UK will receive through the rural development programme sparked of a political war of words yesterday.

Commenting on the UK’s share of the €84.723 billion seven-year rural development budget, where the UK will receive €350 million in 2014, falling to €306m by 2020, MSP Alyn Smith described the settlement as “measly” and, as far as Scotland was concerned, “a remarkably poor deal”.

“We’ve argued for years that the UK is structurally incapable of negotiating a good deal in Brussels for Scotland’s farmers, land managers and rural businesses, and these figures are yet more proof that independence, and the ability to represent your own interests in the EU, really does pay a dividend,” he said.

He added that, in the previous seven years, the UK stood last among EU countries at a miserable €20 per hectare in 2014, compared to the EU average of €72.

Smith also accused the UK government of failing to negotiate itself a top-up of rural development funds, unlike France, which received €1bn extra, Portugal with €500m and Ireland with €100m.

However a spokeswoman for the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dismissed Smith’s views.

“In the UK Parliament, SNP members voted for deep cuts to the EU budget which included the CAP without suggesting that the UK should abandon the rebate,” she said.

“The rebate is hard-won, returning billions of pounds directly from the EU to the UK Exchequer – benefitting all parts of the country, including Scotland. It would be deeply damaging to Scotland’s interests to put that at risk.

“The UK government is exercising its influence to deliver a strong deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

The actual percentage of the UK cash to come to Scotland has still to be decided but the spokeswoman added the UK government had secured powers for Scottish Government ministers to top up rural development funding significantly if they wished to do so. “It is for the Scottish Government to decide how to use these powers,” she said.