First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will use up to £200 million of “national funds” to provide cash support for farmers and crofters while their delayed EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) claims “are being processed.”
The Scottish Conservatives demanded a full independent inquiry “into the SNP’s mishandling of vital CAP payments, which has starved Scotland’s rural communities of hundreds of millions of pounds.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “The SNP’s handling of this situation is becoming more and more shambolic …
“Because of an IT system the Scottish Government created, nearly half of our farmers are waiting for hundreds of millions of pounds in payments that were supposed to start arriving in accounts three months ago.”
Last month, NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie said delays to the new EU payments system left cash flows for Scottish farmers “under severe pressure” with around £440 million still outstanding.
The Scottish Government said on Tuesday that farmers and crofters still waiting for a direct subsidy payment at the end of March will receive a cash advance from Holyrood.
Under the scheme, any farmers and crofters who have not received a first instalment by the end of March will automatically receive a cash advance worth 80% of their CAP claim.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with NFU Scotland, Sturgeon said: “The transition to a new, more complex CAP that is affecting payment schedules right across Europe is happening as farmers and crofters are dealing with poor market prices and challenging weather conditions.
“We are less than half way through the payment window allowed by Europe, and the majority of Scottish producers — more than 10,000 — have already received a subsidy payment.
“However, payments are not being made as quickly as we would like.
“I very much recognise the cash flow issues facing Scottish agriculture, which underpins our £14 billion food and drink industry.
“That is why the Scottish Government has earmarked up to £200 million of national funds so that any farmer or crofter who has not received an instalment by the end of March receive a nationally-funded payment from the Scottish Government in April.”
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said Tuesday’s announcement will also enable Scottish Beef Scheme payments to be made in the middle of April.
“I have always been clear that adding this extra complexity would prove extremely challenging to implement, but it is taking longer to make payments than we had hoped … ” said Lochhead.
“We are continuing efforts to speed up progress, such as taking on extra staff, but given the current difficulties facing Scottish agriculture the Scottish Government will use national funds to ensure farmers and crofters will receive support, totalling hundreds of millions of pounds, in the coming weeks.”