Rural affairs minister faces call to quit over farm payments delay

Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead is facing a call to resign over his handling of the “growing crisis” in delays to European Union (EU) funding payments to farmers.

About 50% of farmers in Scotland are yet to receive their payments from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which represents the main EU subsidy to the sector and is administered by the Scottish government.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called on Nicola Sturgeon to take personal charge of the delays, describing the issue as “a complete failure of government”.

Ms Davidson made the appeal as she told Holyrood’s First Minister’s questions that a former farming union leader intends to urge union members to call for Mr Lochhead’s resignation over the delays.

The Conservative leader said she had been contacted by Jim Walker, president of the National Famers Union Scotland (NFUS) between 1998 and 2003, and a vocal critic of the handling of the payments issue.

Mr Walker said that despite backing Scottish independence during the referendum, he “could never support a party, a minister or a government that has been quite so incompetent, and frankly naive”.

“He is writing an article to be published tomorrow in which he says the NFUS should call for the resignation of both the Cabinet Secretary and his director in the civil service,” Ms Davidson said.

“Our rural economy is currently being starved of nearly £500 million of funding because this SNP government couldn’t organise a payments system in time.

“A system which has already run £75 million over budget and still doesn’t work.”

However, Ms Sturgeon said action was being taken to get instalments out by the end of March, with the balance of payments as soon as possible after that.

She said the government was in fortnightly discussions with banks and had established a £20 million hardship fund.