First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was last night attacked for her handling of the agricultural payments fiasco amid fears that thousands of Scottish farmers are facing fresh delays with their subsidies.
Last night it emerged that the Scottish Government has applied for a two-month extension for its CAP payments processing deadline from the European Commission. The revelation by EC sources came after Ms Sturgeon dodged the question when asked at Holyrood yesterday if the Scottish Government had taken that step. Missing the deadline can lead to multi-million-pound fines.
Ms Sturgeon’s failure to give a direct answer led to the Scottish Conservatives accusing her of presiding over a “culture of secrecy”.
The Scottish Government has been blamed for the failings of its £178 million IT system, which is supposed to deliver the EU subsidies crucial to the livelihoods of many farmers and crofters, and the wider rural economy.
The IT failings created problems last year when the Scottish Government missed the deadline and had to ask Brussels for a extension. Ms Sturgeon and Rural Affairs Minister Fergus Ewing pledged the delays would be fixed.
Despite their promise, the most recent statistics suggest that nearly 6,000 farmers are still waiting for CAP payments.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson quoted the figures at First Minister’s Questions and challenged Ms Sturgeon to tell the parliament whether or not ministers had sought a deadline extension.
Ms Sturgeon said the government was working to make the payments on time and had offered loans to farmers.
But later, EC sources said: “The European Commission has now received a request from the Scottish government to extend the payment deadline from 30 June to 15 October for direct payments. This request will be considered.”
Ms Davidson said last night: “Nicola Sturgeon and Fergus Ewing promised they would fix their broken farm payments system after last year’s debacle.
“Instead, we now learn that the SNP has once again failed to deliver on time for Scotland’s rural economy – risking another huge fine and further delays for hard-pressed farmers and crofters.
“This week, the SNP government has been lambasted for its lack of transparency. This sorry episode only confirms that the culture of secrecy and denial in the SNP government goes right to the top.”