Scotland’s new rural affairs minister made an unreserved apology for the delays in croft and farm payments, and resolved to sort it out.
Fergus Ewing, who has taken over the agricultural brief from Richard Lochhead following a Scottish government reshuffle, insisted the Scottish government was doing all it could to resolve the situation.
However, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has criticised an admission that more than 50 per cent of the £500 million
croft and farm payments budget had yet to be spent.
Mr Scott’s comments came after Mr Ewing spoke in the Scottish parliament on Tuesday.
The minister told the chamber: “I want to start with three simple words, addressed by me on behalf of the Scottish government to all farmers and crofters who have suffered as a result. ‘We are sorry’.
“And let me follow it up with four other words. ‘We are fixing it’.
“Progress has been made, and now I can say that most farmers and crofters should have received most of their due payment. By the end of April past all eligible farmers should have received a substantial payment from the government, unless they chose to opt out.”
The problem over farm payment has been a thorn in the Scottish government’s side for longer than it would care to imagine.
Last month scathing findings were released by Audit Scotland which detailed major failings in Holyrood’s delivery of the CAP payment scheme. The report also highlighted potential fines of up to £125 million should the Scottish government fail to adhere to payment deadlines.
Mr Scott immediately criticised the Scottish government’s handling of the situation. While croft payments were promised to crofters by the end of January, he said, Mr Ewing had stated that only £200 million had so far been spent.
Nearly the same amount, £178 million, had been spent on an IT system that failed and was equally slammed in Audit Scotland’s report.
Mr Scott said 20 per cent of crofters in the isles still had to apply for funding for next year, indicating a low level of confidence in the system.
“I know that more than a fifth of Shetland crofters still have to apply for next year’s croft payment scheme. No wonder. The shambles of these years croft payments have blown a hole in the confidence of local crofters in their government.
“Fergus Ewing was right to apologise and to say that his principal responsibility is to fix the mess. He needs to decide whether the busted £178 million computer can ever work.
“Crofters will not tolerate a repeat of the 2016 shambles. So I will be asking the minister to explain what steps he is now taking to ensure 2017 works smoothly and farm payments can be made at the right time which is by Christmas this year.”