Leaving the European Union will significantly impact on agriculture across Scotland, including in Mr Arthur’s constituency, particularly in a no-deal scenario. The Scottish Government recently published a list of 67 known negative impacts of Brexit across the rural economy, many affecting farming and food production. Analysis shows that the impact of defaulting to World Trade Organization terms could be severe for some sectors. For example, the farm-gate price for sheep meat could fall by up to 30 per cent.
However, the loss of people is potentially the most significant issue. Food Standards Scotland estimates that around 75 per cent of vets currently working in our abattoirs are non-United Kingdom EU nationals. If we were to lose that skilled workforce, we would have serious difficulties in providing meat for domestic consumers as well as for export.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that detailed and sobering answer. Given that the UK Government has failed to guarantee future funding for farm support beyond the end of the current UK parliamentary session, which is scheduled for 2022, can he advise what he is doing to ensure that farmers and food producers get their payment entitlements this year, to help to address the stress that is being caused by on-going Brexit uncertainty?
Who would put money on the UK Parliament lasting until the end of 2022? The guarantee may expire somewhat sooner than that.
We are doing what we can. We have operated two successful loan schemes, for the 2018 basic payments and the 2018 less favoured area support scheme payments, directly putting £370 million into rural businesses.
We commenced basic payments balance payments in March and I am pleased to confirm today that payments that were made under the 2018 Scottish suckler beef support scheme are being processed this week and will begin to reach bank accounts from 9 April, which is next Tuesday. I expect that an initial round of payments worth an estimated £33 million will be processed, with work in hand to make the remainder of the payments between now and the end of the payment window in June.
I can also confirm that we will begin to process LFASS 2018 payments next week, which means that we will close the LFASS loan scheme on 12 April, which is next Friday. Anyone who still wishes to accept a loan offer should reply by that date. So far, we have paid out LFASS 2018 loans worth £51.7 million to 8,379 claimants, which is in line with our experience of previous loan schemes.