The SNP has announced cuts worth tens of millions of pounds for projects aimed at helping Scotland’s farming communities.
In a written statement to the Scottish Parliament today, rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing said he was slashing support for less favourable areas by £40 million, with a further £42 million being removed from climate change schemes.
The announcement was made as part of a revision to the Scottish Rural Development Programme, which began in 2014 and will run until the end of the decade.
It is the latest funding blow for farmers on the back of the SNP’s mishandling of hundreds of millions of pounds in Common Agricultural Policy payments due to a botched IT system.
As part of the revision, the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme will have money reduced from £459 million to £419 million.
That’s money which supports businesses in areas of the country which are harder to farm successfully, particularly in remote areas.
In addition, the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, which gives cash to farmers for green projects, will see its funding go down from £350 million to £308 million.
Shadow rural affairs secretary Peter Chapman said there were now questions over how much the Scottish Government was investing in a scheme it originally said was worth £1.6 billion.
Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary Peter Chapman said:
“Money for farms in less favourable areas is absolutely vital.
“These are the businesses who need the investment most, and now it’s being reduced significantly by an SNP government which has turned its back on rural Scotland.
“When you consider the shambles of the CAP payments fiasco, it paints a grim picture for farmers across the country.
“This announcement effectively removes tens of millions of pounds from a sector that simply can’t afford it.
“It’s no wonder rural Scotland is deserting this nationalist government which is obsessed with Central Belt issues.”
Rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing announced the revised budget today through a written parliamentary answer:
29 August 2017
Index Heading: Economy
John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the revised indicative SRDP scheme budgets that are included in the latest SRDP modification are.
We have taken a range of circumstances into account in determining whether to make any modifications to the Scottish Rural Development Programme between now and 2020. These include the expectation that Scotland’s overall discretionary budget is expected to be 9.2% lower in real terms in 2019-20 compared to 2010-11 and the failure of the UK Government to transfer £160 million convergence funding which rightly belongs to Scottish farmers, despite repeated requests to do so. Moreover, despite our best efforts, we still do not have certainty about the future of the SRDP beyond a commitment from the UK Government to maintain Pillar 1 payments to farmers until 2022. Just one example of this is the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) 2019, for which I have been seeking guarantees from the UK Government since November last year.
The Scottish Government remains determined to take a strategic approach to maintaining the SRDP 2014-2020 budget, ensuring that we maximise the EU funds, while continuing support for key government priorities. That approach means we do not intend to modify current indicative budgets for providing direct support for farmers and crofters, that we will increase SRDP funding to support new and young entrants and will maintain planned support for forestry grants to help deliver the 10,000 hectare tree planting target.
With regard to other changes, we have also taken account of spend to date in some schemes which has been lower than expected and adjusted future budgets accordingly.
The revised indicative budgets, which we are seeking approval from the European Commission for SRDP period 2014-2020 are:
Less Favoured Area Support Scheme - £419m
Agri-Environment Climate Scheme - £308m
Forestry Grant Scheme - £266.8m
Beef Efficiency Scheme - £25.4m
New Entrants - £22m
Crofters Agricultural Grant Scheme - £12m
Small Farmers Grant Scheme - £2m
Food Processing, Marketing and Cooperation Grant Scheme - £66m
Environmental Co-operation Action Fund - £4m
Advisory Services - £19.5m
Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund- £6m
LEADER - £82m
Broadband - £9m
It is important to note that these are indicative budgets, and we will continue to monitor scheme performance and demand, along with the impact of future Spending Reviews, to ensure that the SRDP continues to deliver towards our commitment to build growth all across rural Scotland.
The original budget can be seen here, at which point the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme was set at £459 million and the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme was set at £350 million.