Providing the right support for agriculture and rural communities in the wake of Brexit is essential, not just for the sector and the communities that depend on it, but for Scotland’s economy as a whole. Agriculture is a vital source of employment and income in our rural areas and the foundation of a food and drink sector that is worth billions of pounds and countless jobs across Scotland. However, it is also one of the sectors that is most at risk from the utter chaos of the current Brexit process.
During this time of uncertainty, we need the UK Government to take a no-deal Brexit off the table, but we also need more direction, detail and clarity from the Scottish Government on its long-term vision for a future for agriculture that goes beyond five years and which brings together the many key stakeholders in the sector.
The last time that we debated this topic in the chamber, the cabinet secretary, after pressure from Opposition parties, agreed to convene a group that would develop a new policy in detail. As yet, however, we have little progress on the matter.
The minister mentioned that commitment again today, but she still provided no detail. Given the urgency of the matter and the scale of the work that the group is to undertake, the lack of progress is a deep concern. I accept that there are challenges caused by the continued uncertainty about long-term funding from the UK Government and I share the Scottish Government’s frustration on that point, but I do not accept that that is an excuse to delay the development, in partnership with stakeholders, of far more detailed proposals for a Scottish system. We should be making the case for the level of funding that we need and putting forward credible and detailed plans that show what a new Scottish system could look like in the long term.
That system needs to incorporate the principles that are outlined in the motion of
“productivity, regional differentiation, environmental protection, simplification and research and education”.
A great deal of agreement exists on those principles across a range of stakeholders.
There is also widespread recognition of the need to do more to support environmental sustainability in the sector, taking into account factors such as emissions, biodiversity and air and soil quality. Likewise, it is broadly agreed that payments should be set up in a way that better fosters a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism in the sector by making funding available for measures that are intended to increase productivity and resilience.