Probe needed into crofters’ payment shambles, says MSP
Calls have been made for a full independent inquiry into the deepening cash crisis faced by farmers and crofters.
Conservative rural affairs spokesman, Alex Fergusson, plans to demand a probe into the Scottish government’s £178 million IT failures which have dogged the controversial basic payments scheme.
Mr Fergusson says he will raise a motion in the Scottish parliament tomorrow.
The long-running payment mix up means only 56 per cent of producers in the country have received the cheques which they should have received by the end of December.
Scottish rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead, has faced renewed criticism in light of the problems.
Local NFUS representative, Jim Nicolson, said the cost of the failed computer system was “mind-boggling”.
“I certainly think there needs to be an inquiry, especially into the tremendously expensive computer system that’s really been failing to do what it’s supposed to do.
“It’s obviously costing far too much money, in any case, even if it were working. We’re speaking about something that is nearly half the cost of the [£414 million] Scottish parliament, and there were a lot of concerns about that.”
He said farmers welcomed the prospect of Less Favoured Area Payments due to be made during the last week of this month. But he said alternative ways of getting the basic payments scheme paid out should be examined.
Mr Nicolson added a number of farmers and crofters in the isles had secondary incomes which offset the difficulties they were experiencing but insisted many were “still struggling”.
“We’re coming to a time now where cattle and sheep require a lot of supplementary feeding, and folk will be looking to purchase fertiliser.
“It’s very much the case that folk are having to extend, or take out, overdrafts from the banks to tide them over.”
“It’s obviously costing far too much money, in any case, even if it were working. We’re speaking about something that is nearly half the cost of the [£414 million] Scottish parliament, and there were a lot of concerns about that.” JIM NICOLSON
However, isles MSP Tavish Scott said he did not understand why an inquiry was needed.
He highlighted plans by Scotland’s Auditor General to release findings later this year into an assessment of how payments to producers have been delivered.
“I don’t understand it because Audit Scotland is that independent body and their work is under way which is right,” he said.
“I believe that Audit Scotland will lay bare the utter shambles and incompetence of the government in failing crofters in Shetland and elsewhere. When they do heads must roll.”
Isles Tory candidate, Cameron Smith, said: “I fully support Alex Fergusson’s call for a full inquiry into the payments debacle.
“By the end of last month some 50 per cent of farmers had received some of the payment due, but that is far from Richard Lochhead’s assurances that ‘most’ farmers would have received their payments by the end of January.
“Further, the promise made for the end of January was the third indicative deadline given by the cabinet secretary. I find it hard now to trust any assurances given by the [Scottish] government on this issue, and an independent inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of the problem.
“I’ve been raising this issue locally for many months now, including with the European Commissioner responsible in Strasbourg.”
However, SNP MSP Angus MacDonald said: “It is quite spectacular hypocrisy from the Tories to try and score political points over farm support – when their own farming minister is set on seeing the support abolished in its entirety by dragging Scotland out of the EU.
“The truth is that the Tory government has refused to give our farming communities any information about the future of the support payments they’ll receive if we’re out of Europe – the Tories in Scotland should come clean on their own farming minister’s plans.”
Mr Smith retorted: “I think for the SNP to try to deflect from a real issue affecting not just crofters directly but also related business across Scotland but particularly in the Highlands and Islands is beneath an administration that claims to be standing up for all of the people of Scotland.”
NFU representatives are due to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today on the issue. A rally is due to be staged by the NFUS at Holyrood before FMQs.