Rural charity chief hits out at ‘brutal’ banks

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The head of Scotland’s rural charity yesterday hit out at banks for adopting a “brutal” approach in their dealings with farmers facing financial difficulties following this year’s disastrous weather and poor harvest in many areas.

Speaking in Edinburgh at an NFU Scotland press conference, Maurice Hankey, chief executive of RSABI, said the charity was receiving three times as many calls than usual from farmers in despair, many triggered by the “unsympathetic attitude” of banks.

The RSABI will be receiving a share of the £300,000 donation to UK farming charities from the Prince’s Countryside Fund and the Duke of Westminster, announced by the Prince of Wales on Monday night, and appealed to farmers facing difficulties to get in touch to discuss the problems they were experiencing.

“No-one should feel reluctant to seek help,” said Hankey. “We are here to help and there is nothing for farmers to be ashamed of if they have found difficulty in coping with this year’s weather. We guarantee confidentiality and we understand what they are going through. But we can only help if people get in touch with us.”

He called for compassion from the banks which, he said, were too often summarily cutting off farmers’ lifelines or demanding budgets and whole-farm reviews which took a long time to complete and did not provide the immediate solution required.

“A return to the traditional relationship between bankers and farmers would go a long way,” he said. “I am not suggesting that businesses which are not viable should be propped up but we need a bit of compassion and the opportunity for farmers to get out with dignity if that is the only solution.”

Hankey said calls to the RSABI had tailed off this month following receipt of the annual single farm payment which has been paid out since the first payment date of 1 December to 92 per cent of Scottish farmers.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller pointed to a recent survey of the impact of the weather on Scottish farming which had highlighted the huge pressures farm businesses were under this year and the major worries facing many farmers

“Financial pressures, bereavement or illness can all generate intolerable strain that impacts on the family and the households of those who live and work in the countryside,” said Miller. “We want to reassure them that help and assistance is at hand.”

Miller is urging his members to take time over the Christmas season to consider those in their communities who may need extra comfort and support.

Details of how support can be accessed will shortly be available from NFUS regional offices or phone the RSABI Gatepost confidential helpline on 0300 111 4166.