Scottish farm payments row prompts £150m debt spike

Richard Lochhead stepped down from the cabinet
Richard Lochhead stepped down from the cabinet
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Debt levels among Scotland's farmers has soared by more than £150 million following a "shambolic" logjam in making vital EU payments by the Scottish Government, it has emerged.

Opposition parties are now warning that hard-pressed farmers have "no confidence" in Scottish ministers that the problems will be addressed for next year.

Official figures today revealed that farms had £2.2 billion in debt outstanding at the end of the 2015/16 financial year. This increased from £2.03 billion the year before.

Problems surrounding the creation of a new computer system by the Scottish Government to make payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) meant hundreds of millions of pounds of support were not paid on time to farmers.

It prompted a furious reaction from the agricultural community who accused them of letting farmers down.

Liberal Democrat Rural Affairs spokesman Mike Rumbles said: “Thousands of farmers were forced to wait months to receive the money they were due. The bills did not stop arriving during this period. Hundreds of farmers are even now yet to receive their farm payments and there are huge concerns within the sector over what will happen next year too."

Richard Lochhead, the Rural Affairs Minister who oversaw the debacle, quit the Government for personal reasons in the aftermath of the controversy. It came after a scathing report by the public spending watchdog which said the new IT system may never deliver value for money.