Two grant schemes for crofters and farmers are to be scrapped as part of Shetland Islands Council’s drive to cut spending. It has been the only local authority in Scotland offering such cash assistance for the past 25 years, councillors were told today.
Officials had recommended cutting back the Shetland Agricultural Business Scheme (SABS) by 40 per cent to save £40,000 and the Shetland Rural Development Scheme (SRDS) by 33 per cent, to save £20,000. But Shetland South councillor Billy Fox persuaded the development committee to back his more radical approach, axeing both funds to save £160,000.
The council’s pioneering scheme for protecting animal health is unaffected by the cut.
SABS grants help with the cost of buying fertiliser and lime, rearing heifers, bringing in better-quality bulls or growing arable crops. SRDS helps improve agricultural businesses, including fencing and drainage, as well as providing up to £25,000 towards building works.
Mr Fox said the council could no longer afford the schemes. His motion was seconded by council leader Gary Robinson.
Mr Fox told the committee that farmers and crofters in Shetland received £9.26 million in government subsidy in 2010, which was more than the £8.89 million they generated in output. With council grants only amounting to 1.08 per cent of what the government provided he said it was a merely a “layer of discretionary icing on a very large layer of funding”.
SRDS was introduced because owner-occupiers of crofts were not eligible for some government grants given to tenant crofters. However, they do qualify now following a change in the rules.
While considering the issue last night Mr Fox said he had a phone call from a South Mainland farmer. Expecting it to be an appeal for the grants not to be touched, he was surprised to be told by the man that his industry should be prepared to make a small sacrifice in these straitened times.
Councillor Frank Robertson called for the grant schemes to be kept, albeit at the reduced level recommended by officials. He said West Side crofters had told him they were of particular value to younger people taking on crofting tenancies.
When it came to the vote Mr Fox won 6-2.
If the decision is rubber-stamped it will mean the schemes will cease, but Mr Fox asked that the position be reviewed in future years when the council’s finances are back under control.