BBC Scotland has over recent years made much of the Scottish Government’s shortcomings when implementing changes to farm payments. These caused delays in some farmers receiving funds they were due.
We wait to see whether our public service broadcaster will pick up on today’s GOOD NEWS story that has been covered online by The Scottish Farmer. It is also the subject of a press statement today by the Scottish Government: as we suspect BBC Scotland monitors these – and given its past interest in farm payments – we might expect to find this story covered later on the BBC!
The Scottish Farmer reports that more than 17,400 active farmers and crofters in Scotland have now received their individual allocation of convergence funding, as part of an £86.2 million cash injection to the sector.
As the same source reminds us: “These initial payments are the first tranche of a £160 million package the UK Government has allocated TO RECTIFY THE ‘HISTORIC WRONG’ relating to EU Common Agricultural Policy funding that it did not pass on to Scotland between 2014 and 2018.” (our emphasis)
The Scottish Farmer explains that the catch-up convergence funding has been targeted to support active farming, with a focus on those who farm in the country’s marginal uplands, hill farms and island areas. Further payment will be made in the coming weeks to ensure every eligible farmer and crofter, including new claimants in 2019, receive a payment by the end of March.
The Scottish Government’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing is reported as stating: “Since successfully persuading the UK Government of the need to return this money to Scotland, I have been conscious of the need to adhere to the spirit and original premise of convergence by ensuring it goes to those who it was originally intended to support. Our approach ensures that this vital funding gets to where it needs to be.”
By way of contrast
This is happening in the week of a leak from the UK Tory Government reported by among others the Daily Express (1st March headline – ’Brexit document LEAK: ‘No need for British farmers’ – explosive Whitehall claim’).
The Express article states: ‘Treasury adviser Tim Leunig argued the food sector is NOT “critically important”. In his astonishing remarks, which comes as the UK prepares to enter crunch post-Brexit trade talks with Donald Trump, Doctor Leunig implies the UK could follow the example of Singapore “which is rich without having its own agricultural sector.”
The Express adds: “This news comes as British farmers fret about losing their protection and their subsidies, with their biggest concern about WHETHER OR HOW the Government will replace their £3billion of annual subsidies under the European Union’s common agricultural policy.”
And a sign of ‘perspective bypass’?
These reports of risk and uncertainty for all British farming due to Westminster – being flagged-up even in a Tory-supporting paper like the Express – surely justify a wry smile when then reading of a contribution today from Colin Smyth MSP, the Rural Economy spokesperson for the Labour Party in Scotland.
Mr Smyth writes: “Farmers and crofters urgently need clarity. …. It’s time the Scottish Government started to deliver that.” Perhaps he should show greater awareness both of where the true, major threats to Scotland’s agricultural sector really lie and of the constraints on the agency on these matters of the Scottish Government and of the Parliament in which he sits.