The Scottish Government’s cabinet secretary for the rural economy could find himself on the receiving end of lively questioning when he visits Lewis on Thursday (November 7th).
Fergus Ewing MSP will be at Barvas and Brue community centre between 3.45 and 5.15pm that day to answer questions and present information about crofting issues.
His visit coincides with a fast-moving and, at times, angry debate about payments to crofters, after an announcement last week that long-delayed ‘convergence money’ from the EU was to be paid on by UK Government to the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government then outlined how the initial £80 million worth of convergence funding would be distributed. This is part of a £160 million package the UK Government has agreed to pay to rectify a ‘historic wrong’ relating to EU Common Agricultural Policy funding that it failed to pass on to Scotland between 2014-2020.
Crofting organisations believe that Mr Ewing missed a golden opportunity when he announced the formula by which the money was to be awarded, which does not adequately address the disadvantages faced by crofters on remote and marginal land.
Angus MacNeil MP said: “Clearly there are concerns that the convergence money is not being distributed to where it is most needed.
“The Scottish Government must review and make good the concerns of crofters and meet the original hopes for this funding. We know that this money was delayed by Westminster for a number of years and that the current money has to be distributed by March 2020. It would seem that the Scottish Government has rushed to announce this funding in order to meet this deadline.
“This is certainly a moving situation and I hope that after Fergus Ewing visits Lewis this week, he will take on board the concerns that will no doubt be raised with him and allay the fears of crofters.”
His view has been endorsed by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan, who said yesterday that he had raised crofters’ concerns regarding the allocation of EU convergence funding directly with Mr Ewing.
Dr Allan said: “The Scottish Government should be credited for finally prising the long-withheld EU convergence money for farmers and crofters from the UK Government which for so long withheld it.
“Now that the detail has been published, it is very clear that the basis on which the first £80 million is to be distributed remains contentious, particularly the share of money that is going to the best land. While it is welcome that those on the least-favoured land are getting the highest percentage uplifts, these are of course high percentages of what were in many cases tiny grants to start with.
“Like my colleague Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, and others, I have spent much of this weekend speaking to government, and in particular to Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, to raise these concerns. I have also been in touch with a number of crofters in the islands.
“The conversation with Mr Ewing was constructive, and I hope has left the Cabinet Secretary in no doubt just how strongly so many in my constituency feel about this issue. I welcome the fact that Fergus Ewing has been prepared to listen on this, and I hope he will now be able to respond directly to the concerns which crofters have expressed.”