Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) is laying down a marker on the £160 million agricultural ‘back-payment’ that has been returned to Scotland, pointing-out that it is crofters’ and hill-farmers’ low payments that secured it.
“It is very encouraging that the UK Government has honoured the Prime Minister’s pledge to pay the £160 million that has been owed to Scotland due to the below-average agricultural payments we receive,” said the chair of SCF, Yvonne White.
“It is in great part down to the tenacity of the Scottish Government and Scottish producers that we won this, though it was clearly owed to us and it is shameful that we had to make such an effort to get what is due us.”
The current phase of the Common Agriculture Policy set a threshold of 90 per cent of the EU average payment rate per hectare that all member states should reach. The UK’s average rate per hectare fell below the 90 per cent threshold because of Scotland’s very low average payment rate - which is only about 45 per cent of the EU average. As a consequence, the UK will now receive an extra €223 million (about £190 million) over a six-year period.
Ms White continued, “Scottish Government and stakeholders have long argued that the refund should come to Scotland in its entirety as it is our low payments, particularly those to crofters and hill farmers, which bring the UK average down low enough to justify the refund. Until now the UK Government has been reluctant to concede that it is Scotland’s money and have only given us £30 million. Now that we are to get the remaining £160 million, we need to make sure that it goes to those areas that receive very low payments.
“There is a huge disparity in payments in Scotland,” Ms White went on, “with permanent rough grazing only getting a tenth of that which arable and rotational grass get. This is the rough grazing that supports crofters and hill farmers and it is this payment that brings the Scottish average down so low. The payment for this grazing should, therefore, be increased to raise the Scottish average”.
Ms White concluded, “It is imperative that Scottish Government do not do what the UK government tried to do, to use this money for anything but for that which it is intended. This is money that has a specific use, to increase agricultural payments to the lowest paid and must be ring-fenced for this.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has also welcomed the announcement that £160 million worth of convergence funding owed by the UK Government to Scotland’s crofters and farmers is finally set to be repatriated.
“This is money that should have rightfully been used to support crofters and farmers in Scotland. I am delighted that after six years the UK Government have finally bowed to pressure from the SNP and agreed to repatriate this funding.
“However, it is worrying that, despite these powers being fully devolved, UK government ministers are reported to be seeking to direct how these funds are to be spent. That would be wrong and would go against devolution.
“The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing outlined to Parliament earlier this week that all additional convergence funding received will be ring fenced for agriculture. It is not for the UK Government to decree how that money should be ring fenced.
“Given that this money was awarded due to Scotland’s lower payment rate, it is right that those who typically receive the lowest levels of support – such as crofters and those in island areas – should be prioritised when these funds are made available and I will be seeking assurances on this point.
Scottish Land & Estates has welcomed news that Scottish farmers will receive an extra £51.4m over the next two years, in addition to the £160m allocated in the Spending Round on Wednesday.
The £51.4m pot of new money comes as the Lord Bew Review of farm funding, commissioned by the UK Government, is published today Friday 6 September.
Sarah-Jane Laing, Executive Director, said: “This is further excellent news for Scottish agriculture following the £160m allocated in the Spending Round on Wednesday.
“It is important that this funding is used to support the entire sector and encourages innovation as the industry adjusts to the challenges and opportunities ahead.”