The Scottish Government has encouraged any farmer who had not applied for an advance loan on their expected support payments to do so even if the original deadline has passed.
The loan scheme, which was estimated to put up to £300 million into the rural economy, was announced earlier this autumn by cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing.
The industry has lost all confidence in the SNP on this issuePeter Chapman
The Government reckoned that up to 18,000 farmers and crofters could be eligible for the advance cash, which is free from interest and which would be deducted from their actual support payment when it is paid.
A spokesman said, “Over 12,500 eligible farmers and crofters have now applied for and received a loan based on 80 per cent of their estimated entitlement for 2016 basic payment and greening payments up to a maximum of €150,000 (£127,000). So far the money advanced has amounted to £256.5m.
“We are pleased with the significant response so far but want all eligible farmers and crofters to benefit. The scheme remains open and we are doing all we can to encourage all remaining farmers to take up the offer of a loan, which is essentially an advance payment on 2016 entitlement.
“The money will not only help farm business incomes, but is also helping to provide a welcome boost to the rural economy and communities over these winter months.”
However, due to what the spokesman described as “an administrative error”, some 166 farm businesses have been over-paid and have now been contacted by the government requesting the excess money is repaid.
The spokesman stressed: “Steps have been taken to rectify the cause of this error, which is not related to the IT system, and minimise the risk of it happening again.”
Peter Chapman, shadow secretary for rural economy and connectivity for the Conservative Party, described the mistake and the fact the Government wanted the cash repaid within seven days as the latest in “an unprecedented catalogue of blunders on farm payments” by the SNP.
“I think it would be fair to say that the industry has lost all confidence in the SNP on this issue,” he said.
The loan was intended to take the heat off the malfunctioning computer which was installed at a cost of around £180m to deliver all the Scottish farm support payments but which has singularly failed to meet timetable targets.
In response to a query on when the actual payments for 2016 would commence, the spokesman said, “We expect these payments to be made by the end of the payment period, namely by the end of June.”
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