NFUS looks to significant progress by Highland Show

NFU Scotland has welcomed a statement from Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing MSP, outlining his commitment to delivering outstanding Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments by the 30 June deadline.

Speaking today in the Scottish Parliament about the CAP delivery debacle, Mr Ewing said, on behalf of the Scottish Government: “We are sorry. We are fixing it.”

The Cabinet Secretary’s statement was made on the back of a damning report from Audit Scotland published two weeks ago which outlined the severe failures in the delivery system and the potential for fines of between £40 million and £125 million were Scotland to fail to meet the Europe’s payment delivery deadline of 30 June.

In considering the statement, NFU Scotland believes a wholesale review of the programme’s failings is absolutely necessary.  Lessons need to be learned, changes need to be made and people need to be held to account.  However, it supported the Cabinet Secretary in prioritising the completion of the 2015 payment run and filling the huge and damaging hole in Scotland’s rural economy before the end of June.

With Scotland’s main agricultural event, the Royal Highland Show, taking place at Ingliston on 23 June to 26 June, the Union would want Scottish Government to have made significant progress towards delivering outstanding payments, including the new sheep scheme for hill farmers, by the time of the event.

NFU Scotland’s Chief Executive Scott Walker said: “The Cabinet Secretary’s frank recognition of the Scottish Government’s CAP payment failures and his commitment to rectify them by the end of June sees him put down a clear marker with farmers, crofters and the wider rural economy that they will be looking for him to fulfil.

“Given the recent damning report from Audit Scotland into the CAP IT delivery programme, sorting out the mess was always going to be top of Mr Ewing’s agenda.

“There is much unfinished business to be done.  We want outstanding support payments delivered to farmers and crofters before the payment window closes in June.  Mapping, regionalisation, fixing entitlement rates, national reserve awards and delivery of the new sheep support scheme have also been delayed and must be completed.

“For now getting the outstanding payments to farmers and crofters must be the priority but lessons do need to be learned, changes need to be made and people need to be held to account.

“We understand that the European Commission is giving consideration to extending its 30 June payment window deadline, reflecting on payment delivery problems in other member states. Whilst this would provide welcome flexibility in avoiding hefty fines, and be a good result for Scottish taxpayers, our position is that this absolutely cannot provide Scottish Government with an excuse to delay payments any further.

“The urgency and focus should very much remain on delivering all outstanding payments by the end of June at the very latest, with an opportunity to update the industry on progress at the Highland Show.

“While there was also a clear commitment from the Cabinet Secretary of the need to learn from mistakes, it is also important that a clear timetable for future support payment delivery is set and adhered to and that would be an important part of any future statement to Scottish Parliament by Mr Ewing.”

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