Outcry at farm subsidy payments review delay

A review into EU subsidies distributed by Westminster which Scottish ministers believe are 'owed' to Scottish hill farmers has been delayed.

The payments are aimed at ensuring that hill farm payments are distributed more fairly. Photograph: Lisa Ferguson
The payments are aimed at ensuring that hill farm payments are distributed more fairly. Photograph: Lisa Ferguson

Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said that the delay, confirmed in a letter from the UK government, is “completely unacceptable”.

EU Convergence Uplift payments of £190 million to the UK were triggered due to the low rate of Common Agriculture Policy payments given to Scottish hill farmers.

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Only Scotland qualified for the payments, which are aimed at distributing the subsidies more fairly based on average euros per hectare, as England, Wales and Northern Ireland are 
all above the threshold. However, so far the UK government has allocated around £30 million of the uplift payments to Scotland, with the rest being distributed around the United Kingdom.

Now an independent review into the uplift payments announced by UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove last year has been delayed.

Ewing said: “Scottish hill farmers are owed £160 million, which the UK government has repeatedly ignored. I have been clear throughout that the money was earned in Scotland, and quite frankly should be returned to Scotland.”

He said the demand is about setting a precedent for future agriculture funding within the UK.

Scottish Labour’s rural economy spokesman, Colin Smyth, also raised fears that unless the review takes place soon, an “unfair” precedent will be set for future funding distribution in the United Kingdom.

He said: “These delays are an utter betrayal of Scotland’s farmers, who are increasingly stuck in the middle of the constitutional ping pong between the UK and Scottish governments.

“The significant level of hill farming in Scotland shows clearly why a fairer proportion of these payments should have come north
of the Border in the first
place and there should
never have been a need for a review.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We are in discussion with HM Treasury about this review.

“It is essential that it is considered alongside wider funding implications in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as we leave the EU.”

She said that farming support allocations have been guaranteed in cash terms until 2022, adding: “Ministers have consistently said we will ensure all parts of the UK are treated fairly and their circumstances taken into account.”