Scotland Rural Development Programme (Application Process)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 29 September 2011.

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Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to speed up the application process for the Scotland rural development programme. (S4O-00216)

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Following the recommendations of the Scotland rural development programme first-stage review by Peter Cook in 2009, we have taken a number of actions to improve the application processes. Those include an option to bypass the first stage of the two-stage rural priorities application process; the transfer of support for community services and facilities applications from central control to the more locally based LEADER—links between activities developing the rural economy—scheme; and the introduction of an on-going approval process for woodland creation and for agri-environment grants on designated sites.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary confirm the financial allocation that is to be awarded by the Argyll regional project assessment committee for the remainder of the seven-year programme?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

As Mike MacKenzie can imagine, I have been carefully examining the implications of the recent spending review and I will announce a future agri-environment round. We are also consulting our stakeholders before announcing arrangements for other RPAC rounds. As the end of the programme gets closer, there is less funding available and the spending review has had an impact on the amount of resource available to the Scottish Government, especially in capital grants, but I assure members that there will be further rounds.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Will the cabinet secretary take steps not just to speed up the process but to simplify it, so that it becomes more accessible for smaller farmers who find it difficult to afford the fees that professional agents ask for? Will he also take steps to make the process easier for people who are not computer literate to apply, so they may do so not necessarily online? Those two problems are often flagged up with me.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Alex Fergusson raises valid concerns and issues that many applicants throughout Scotland have raised. I feel confident that we have addressed a number of those concerns in the past couple of years, and the system is much simpler than it was before, but I accept that it is perhaps still not simple enough.

There are many administrative European Union regulatory checks—including a 5 per cent inspection requirement—that must be carried out before any claims can be paid. As members can imagine, that often slows up the process. There are lessons to learn about how we administer the scheme in Scotland, but we must also ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard in Brussels so that the next rural development programme is simpler, as the member calls for and as I would certainly support.

The Presiding Officer:

I call Margaret McDougall to ask question 5—[Interruption.] I apologise—I have missed out question 4.