Crofting (Support)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 11:40 am, 4th December 2008

To ask the Scottish Executive what support it is giving the crofting community. (S3O-5137)

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government supports crofting communities by investing in public services and creating opportunities for sustainable economic growth. The rural affairs and environment portfolio currently provides more than £40 million a year in financial support to crofting communities through specific crofting grants, the less favoured areas support scheme and wider agricultural and rural development support.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

That is encouraging, but the minister will be aware of the growing evidence that the Scottish rural development programme payments are too bureaucratic, unfocused and not easily accessed by crofters and farmers. I am also told that the payments are only available online, which excludes people such as me and others in the Highlands. It appears that consultants are the only people whom the current system supports. Will the minister take a long hard look at the Scottish rural development programme payments for the benefit of the entire crofting and agricultural community?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

The SRDP offers the opportunity to access considerable sums of money, and we want to make that as easy as possible. My colleague Richard Lochhead has already announced that there will be a review. The forestry elements are being considered by George McRobbie and his team, and I am grateful for the effort that they are putting in.

The previous Government devised the SRDP with stakeholders, and we would like a higher take-up of the scheme, although take-up has already been substantial. To that end, we will ensure that when the review takes place, it will emphasise access—easy access in particular—to the scheme, although many of the schemes are competitive, as they should be. I have addressed those and other issues at crofters' meetings this week in Benbecula and Harris, and the crofting community knows that we are concerned and that we want to move forward.

I can offer some specific assistance to John Farquhar Munro: training in computer skills will be available as part of the scheme and, as a retired crofter, he is probably eligible.