30th September 2016
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Probe into crofters’ payments after ‘complete cock-up’

A report on the Scottish government’s record in delivering funds to crofters and farmers under its beleaguered payment scheme will be published later this year.

Scotland’s Auditor General, Caroline Gardner, plans to release her findings in May following an assessment of how payments to producers have been delivered and managed.

It comes after a £20 million hardship fund for those affected by CAP delays was announced by Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead.

A farmer moving sheep between fields at Bannamin beach. Joe Leask

Many farmers and crofters have been left struggling financially after the delay in payments. Photo: Joe Leask

Earlier this month the Scottish government was forced to admit failing to provide the majority of support payments due to crofters and farmers by the end of January – the self-imposed deadline the SNP-led authority said it would adhere to. Mr Lochhead said 70 per cent of contributions through the new basic payments scheme had not been provided. The shortfall was said to have left uncertainty hanging over 900 crofting businesses in Shetland alone.

Local NFU chief Jim Nicolson said banks were understanding of farmers’ plights, even if “large overdrafts” were beginning to mount – something which was beginning to have a knock-on effect on agricultural suppliers.

“I’m not sure what advantage the hardship fund is going to bring. As I understand a number of the banks are quite happy to extend loan facilities. They seem to be reasonably supportive, but obviously there will be interest.”

However, he warned: “My understanding as well is there are some very large overdrafts building up now, and there is concern not just for crofters and farmers, but also for the agricultural suppliers, because obviously some of them are laying out a lot of money as well.”

Much of the blame for the delayed payments has been laid at the door of a problematic computer system. Mr Nicolson said that was frustrating for government staff struggling to process the payments.

“It does seem that there is a huge sum of money involved in a computer system that has not, so far, been able to provide what it should have done.

“I have no criticism of the officers. They are probably as stressed as anybody, because things are not progressing as they would like them to be.”

Meanwhile, intervention from the Auditor General has been welcomed by the Isles MSP.

Tavish Scott

Tavish Scott wants answers over the ‘fiasco’.

Tavish Scott described the Scottish government’s actions as “a fiasco” and “a complete cock-up”.

He said: “I know that the Auditor General’s investigation of the Scottish government’s failure to pay farmers and crofters on time will leave no stone unturned. Any farmers and crofters who have been affected by this Scottish government fiasco should contact Audit Scotland.

“It will help them to build a clear picture of how this complete cock-up by the Scottish government has hit crofters and farmers from Shetland to Galloway and all points in between.”

Addressing farmers during the NFUS annual meeting at St Andrews on Friday, Mr Lochhead apologised for the Scottish government’s failings.

“I fully accept the current situation is not good enough, and I’m sorry that we are not getting payments out the door more quickly.

“We all knew that there was a high risk to the payments timetable due to the move away from historic payments, and the decisions we took here in Scotland to meet the industry’s needs.”

AboutRyan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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