Lochhead's Dithering Puts Scottish Farmers at Risk
Thousands of Scottish farmers are facing a financial crisis because of delays by the SNP Government in processing EU subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy.
Now the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, has been accused of putting the future of those farmers at risk because of his "dithering" and the inability of his department to put in place a new computer system to process the payments on time.
The criticisms of the Cabinet Secretary's handling of the process were made by Sarah Boyack MSP, Scottish Labour's spokesperson for Environmental Justice
Speaking in advance of today's (Thurs) Statement to the Scottish Parliament on progress on Single Farm Payments from Richard Lochead, she said:
"Thousands of farmers are still in the dark as to when they will receive these payments which they are relying on to keep their businesses going. Richard Lochhead is presiding over an absolute shambles. Everyone knew that the EU support system was complicated, but the design and implementation of the Scottish Government's payments system has been a source of worry for months now. The computer programme developed to process the payments has been plagued by delays.
“Evidence to the Rural Affairs Committee highlighted that the system was unstable and difficult for farmers and agents to use. At every stage the Cabinet Secretary has used the excuse that the EU system was complex. But it seems no back-up plan was put in place to address the possibility of the system not being operational by the end of the year. Farmers are desperate to know when they will receive their money as the delays in processing payments, estimated at around £10,000 per claimant, is what is causing stress and financial worries.
"Back in June Mr Lochhead acknowledged that he knew that the Scottish Government 'absolutely must deliver a system which comes in on time and is not brought to its knees by complexity'. To date he has completely failed to deliver this. Banks have had to put in place special lending options, but these are not universal and will come at a cost to farmers who will have to pay interest on these loans. So I will want to know whether the Scottish Government will commit to compensating farmers for interest paid as a direct result of delayed payments.
"Freedom of Information requests have documented the repeated failure of the Scottish Government to get their payments system back on track. The system is £92m over budget, double the original estimate.
"In any other Government the embarrassment and failure of this computer system would have triggered a reshuffle by the First Minister.
"This whole affair has been a botched job from start to finish. The last time MSPs had the chance to get answers from Mr Lochhead I asked when individual farmers would know when they would receive their payments and to date we still don't have an answer.
"The Cabinet Secretary must come to the Scottish Parliament today with clear answers not more excuses. Thousands of Scottish farmers, and the jobs and rural economies that depend on farming are relying on their EU subsidy to get them through the next few months."