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Prompt payment of CAP support in December will be test of Lochhead’s resolve
Farmers have still not been given guarantees by the Scottish Government that crucial CAP payments worth thousands of pounds will be paid on time – a year after it was first raised in Holyrood.
 
The SNP’s new IT system – which should ensure payments land in farmers’ bank accounts by the end of December - has been plagued with issues since its launch.
 
Problems were first flagged up in October last year, when the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee heard how there were question marks over whether the cash would arrive on time.
 
And just last week, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead was still unable to give guarantees to the Scottish Parliament, despite having 12 months to address the issue.
 
It follows similar admissions in June, and could see farmers across Scotland waiting longer for payments which are critical to the running of their businesses.
 
Ministers have been widely criticised for the troubled roll-out of a new system for farmers to register for their payments after costs doubled, new staff had to be hired and deadlines for applications extended.
 
In October 2014 MSPs on the public audit committee heard changes “may affect the usual timetable” in relation to this year’s payments.
 
By June, Mr Lochhead said while he was working hard to ensure payments arrive by the end of the year “of course … I can’t make any guarantee of that”.
 
And only last week, in response to a question from Scottish Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan, he again failed to offer guarantees, saying only: “We are working flat out to do our best to ensure that payments will begin during the formal payment window, which is before the end of December.”
 
The National Farmers Union Scotland has previously said: “Payment in the December window is essential to ease cashflow worries on Scottish farms.”
 
Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson said:
 
“Prompt payment of this support will be a test of Richard Lochhead’s grip on this situation.
 
“Farmers need certainty to plan their businesses, yet the Scottish Government’s handling of the whole CAP reform package has left farmers mired in uncertainty.
 
“If they don’t know when the money they’re due will hit their bank account, how are they meant to make decisions for the future?
 
“We’ve seen with the crash in milk, lamb and cereal prices how tough life is for our farmers at the moment.
 
“The one thing they need is certainty of support payment in December.
 
“Throughout the IT system shambles, the Scottish Conservatives have pressed ministers on whether payments would be on time.
 
“But one year on, there is still no firm response, and that is sloppy and unacceptable.
 
“Governments are elected to make things happen. This SNP government seems increasingly incapable of doing so.”
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