Disappointment as vital hill sheep scheme put to back of the queue

Scotland’s 2015 farm payment debacle is finally nearing closure after many months of heartache and financial pressure on Scotland’s farmers, crofters and the wider agri-community.

News that farmers and crofters are to start receiving the balance of their support payments in the next few days will see the last of the monies due under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening measures finally delivered into bank accounts, more than six months later than normal.

With Scottish Government resources currently focussed on delivering these balance payments, NFU Scotland is disappointed to learn that further IT failures are at the heart of why Scotland’s hard-pressed hill sheep farmers are being pushed to the back of the queue for their coupled payments.

A new Scottish Upland Sheep Scheme (SUSS), valued at £6 million, was designed to reward those actively keeping sheep on some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged land.  In recent weeks, it has emerged that a system to reconcile claims with the ScotEID sheep database is only just being taken forward.  That means SUSS claims are unlikely to be delivered until sometime in July and only after the balance payments for BPS and greening have been settled.

Speaking at the Highland Show, which opened at Ingliston near Edinburgh today (23 June), NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “It has been a long, and, at times, acrimonious journey to get to a point where all Scottish farmers and crofters will eventually receive the full amount of support due to their businesses but we are finally getting there.

“At a very early stage following his recent appointment, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing apologised for the payment debacle and committed to fixing it.

“The commencement of balance payments is the next step in the process of finally filling the huge financial hole in Scotland’s rural economy that emerged over the first half of 2016.

“It is disappointing and worrying that IT issues are also a factor in the delay in delivering the new hill sheep scheme.  Having identified a scheme aimed at rewarding active hill sheep producers, and ensuring that our limited CAP budget is targeted at the active, discovering at this late stage that reconciling claims with database information is a further problem will only leave farmers and crofters both angry and bewildered.

“It is galling that those most active in these disadvantaged and vulnerable areas have been pushed to the back of the queue when many will view the ewe hogg payment as a vital support stream.

“For now, the priority for Scottish Government must remain getting all outstanding payments to farmers and crofters and once this is achieved, the whole process must be properly scrutinised.  Lessons need to be learned, changes need to be made and the people responsible for the payment run debacle must be held to account.”

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