Last week, I confirmed that the Scottish Government had issued basic payment and greening payment to around 3,500 farmers and crofters, totalling around £33 million of direct support. That first instalment equated to 75 per cent of farmers’ and crofters’ basic payment value, and 90 per cent of their greening value.
It remains our intention to pay the first instalment to the majority of farmers and crofters this month, with the final balance to be paid in April, and—of course—the rest of the first payments will be paid in February and March.
Does that mean that 80 per cent of Scotland’s farmers and crofters have yet to receive any CAP payments, which the Government promised they would get before Christmas, even though the Government has spent £178 million on a new computer system?
How many payment region reviews are still outstanding for Shetland alone? What are the implications for less favoured areas support scheme and ewe and beef scheme payments? Will they be late, too? Does the cabinet secretary understand that farmers and crofters from Shetland to Stranraer are fed up, annoyed and worried about their cash flow because of their need to pay feed bills in the flood-ridden winter that Scotland is enduring?
I very much appreciate the challenges that face crofters and people in the rest of the agriculture sector at the moment, but I know that Parliament is familiar with the complexity of the new common agricultural policy and with how we have, for good reasons, chosen to implement it in Scotland.
I said that we would begin to make payments to crofters and farmers in Scotland before the end of last year, and we have fulfilled that commitment. I accept that a fair number of farmers and crofters are still to receive their payments.
The £178 million business case that was cited by Tavish Scott relates to the whole futures programme. Most of it is for the information technology system that is designed to serve the common agricultural policy, which will deliver a huge amount of investment to the sector in the coming years and equates to 4 per cent of the payments that will go out the door to Scotland’s agricultural and rural sectors. The investment is necessary in order to get those payments out the door.
I am paying close attention to the impact on other payments. We have said all along that there might be an impact on other payments—they might be delayed for a few weeks—and that we would seek to minimise that as far as possible. With regard to the voluntary coupled support payments to beef and sheep farmers, we are aiming for roughly the same timescale as last year.
On the impact of flooding on agriculture, the first thing that we have to do is understand the scale of the impacts on Scottish farmland of the atrocious conditions of the past few weeks, and the consequences. That is what we are doing now and over the next few days.
However, as I have said to the farmers whom I have met, and will say to the official organisations in the next few days, there are issues with regard to how we will repair the flood damage, including regulatory issues. We need to consider how to make it easier for farmers to deal with the aftermath of flooding, which will involve discussions with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Until we have had those discussions, it is difficult to say what options are available, but I have pledged that we will have those discussions in order to help.