Yesterday couldn’t have been a good day for the Scottish Government’s rural division.
For, just as it was being widely accused of being asleep at the wheel over its attempt to stamp out slipper farmers and some of its top civil servants were being taken to task by the Scottish Parliament’s audit committee over the failings and runaway cost of the new computer supposed to handle farm support payments, another major blunder was revealed.
The Scottish Government saw the car-crash that this would have had on the rural economyScott Walker
This third leg of the triple whammy emerged when it became clear that a significant number of the 17,000 letters sent to producers offering details of the national loan scheme – set to be introduced to tide farmers over until the £178 million computer system could sort out payments – contained serious errors.
Raising the alarm, NFU Scotland said that many producers had reported that areas of land had been missed form the calculations which should have offered them a loan of approximately 80 per cent of their expected support.
Scott Walker, the union’s chief executive, said that this new error would further undermine farmers’ and crofters’ confidence in the system ever being fit for purpose.
“The loan scheme is a recognition of the fact that the IT system would not deliver 2016 CAP monies in good time,” said Walker.
“The Scottish Government saw the car-crash that this would have had on the rural economy and pre-empted it by introducing a loan scheme to help ensure that finances in the rural economy would keep moving.”
Walker said that while the authorities had been quick to admit their mistake – and would be contacting all those affected by telephone – the further failure was deeply disappointing.
He believed around 100 producers were affected and that the department had promised they would receive new loan offer letters.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Clearly we regret this miscalculation. We have acted very swiftly to address it and to ensure it doesn’t affect the timetable for getting the loan payments to farmers.”
MSPs are ‘far from satisfied’
The convener of the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee, Jenny Marra, said that her committee had been “far from satisfied” with the answers given by Scottish Government officials on the commissioning and performance of the troubled farm support IT system.
Following the interrogation of officials, she said that “serious questions” remained around the system’s governance and capabilities – adding that the committee had demanded a detailed chronology of events, including when problems were first identified and when ministers were informed.
“We will also ask the permanent secretary to appear before us in order to understand whether there are any wider issues around accountability, performance and management for the Scottish Government to address,” said Marra.