'˜Flawed' IT farm payment system under fresh attack

The computer system charged with controlling the support payments for Scottish farmers received more criticism yesterday.

IT problems have seen many farmers left short of cash. Picture: Ami Vitale/Getty Images
IT problems have seen many farmers left short of cash. Picture: Ami Vitale/Getty Images

Farming leaders and politicians complained about late payments under the less favoured areas support scheme (LFASS) and also raising the situation of the hundreds of farmers still waiting for money from the 2015 basic payment scheme.

The latest IT delays centre on £10 million in the final tranche of payments under LFASS, a scheme described by NFU Scotland as “delivering lifeline support to 11,500 of the country’s most vulnerable and remote producers”.

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Union spokesman Martin Kennedy, who farms in Highland Perthshire, said: “For those farming in Scotland’s less favoured areas, there remains a £10m hole in funding that would traditionally have been filled in March. While the Scottish Government’s intervention in the spring – by-passing the flawed IT system – saw a welcome injection of £55m via the old LFASS data, the balance of £10m remains outstanding with no timetable for delivery.”

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Kennedy then took issue with Scottish Government handling of the new Scottish upland sheep support scheme which aims to assist active hill farmers and crofters though a payment coupled to the number of ewe hoggs they keep.

Speaking on behalf of the union, he said the government had missed an opportunity to put an upper limit on the number of hoggs that could be claimed.

“The Scottish Government estimated that the payment rate in year one would be €100 (£84) per ewe hoggm,” he said. “The reality is that the payment rate was €78. Having failed to make any changes, there is an urgent need for the Scottish Government to provide claimants with a new estimate of next year’s rate.

“We believe an upper claim limit based on a percentage of the breeding flock is required to help control over-claiming by those with an excess of ewe hoggs over and above the numbers they would normally require as flock replacements.”

By changing the rules, he said it would sort out those individuals who had benefitted from the open-ended commitment.

He continued: “That happened this year and it must not be allowed to happen again. This is a scheme that has the potential to work extremely well but only if the Scottish Government is willing to learn from experience and make the changes that are necessary.”

Mike Rumbles demands ‘no repeat’

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Computer system problems were also cited by North-east MSP Mike Rumbles as he attacked the First Minister and the Scottish Government for ignoring the damage caused to rural communities by the CAP payment debacle.

Rumbles expressed his frustration in Parliament yesterday over what he called “the contempt shown for farmers and the rural economy in the government’s forthcoming programme”.

He said: “I waited for some confirmation from the Scottish Government that payments for the coming year to our farmers would not be a repeat of this year’s shambles. But no such reassurances were given.

“There was no mention of the £140 million failed IT system, no mention of the damage to our rural communities, and no mention of the millions of pounds of taxpayers money wasted on staff overtime and quick fixes that haven’t solved the problem.

“I hope that in the coming weeks the First Minister will hold her hands up, apologise to our farmers and their families, and give a cast iron guarantee this bungle will not happen again.”

The latest statistics released by the government show approximately 700 farmers and crofters are still waiting on their 2015 support cash. A further 300 or so have only received a partial payment with 17,330 having now received full payment.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We continue to work flat out to get CAP payments out as fast as possible and have made significant progress, so far paying a total of £357m in direct farm funding.

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“All known eligible farmers who haven’t had a basic and greening payment have been offered a loan equivalent to 80 per cent of their CAP claim. We also paid around £54m under the National Less Favoured Area Support Scheme in March and April to more than 11,000 farmers and crofters.”