Agriculture Support (Convergence Money)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2019.

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Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

2. Presiding Officer, do I have to declare an interest again?

Members:

Yes!

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

Well, I will. I am a partner in a farming business.

To ask the Scottish Government how it proposes to spend the £160 million in convergence money to support agriculture. (S5O-03720)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy announced last week that £80 million will be paid by the end of March 2020 to Scotland’s active farmers and crofters. The anticipated remaining £80 million will be paid by the end of March 2021, once it has been delivered by the United Kingdom Government.

The cabinet secretary has since announced that the Scottish Government will provide an extra £10 million in 2019-20 to people who are farming and crofting Scotland’s most challenging land. That money is additional to the £80 million that is being provided in this financial year and will be drawn down early from the second £80 million tranche of convergence money.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

We have established that

£13 million of hard-won convergence money has been used to replace less favoured area support scheme funds that were taken from the budget and spent on other things by Derek Mackay. We also know that £10 million of extra funding to crofting communities has been borrowed from the second tranche of £80 million that is due next year. I am very concerned that the further £40 million will be used to fill next year’s LFASS shortfall. Can the minister confirm that that is not the intention?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

First, I want to say that when I saw this question from Peter Chapman, I thought that it was particularly brave of him to raise convergence in the chamber, especially given that it was the Conservative Party that withheld that funding from the people to whom it was due in the first place—Scottish farmers and crofters— and distributed it everywhere else bar Scotland. That was a historic injustice that the Prime Minister admitted to. He said that it is an injustice and that he will try to right it, but his own party in Scotland has never once admitted that.

It is only because of the Scottish Government, and those ministers who have been in the rural economy portfolio since the time that the money was first withheld, that we got the £160 million back, and it is only because of the Scottish Government and the pressure that we put on the UK Government that we have been able to get the first tranche of that £80 million in funding now.

I am not surprised that we will be criticised by the Tories no matter what we do. If we had not pressured for that funding and we were taking too long—guess what?—we would have been too slow. Then we are criticised because we are acting too fast. I recognise that there are strong views on either side about this funding; that is why we are trying to make the process as straightforward, open and transparent as possible.

I must address some of the comments that Peter Chapman made last week, after the statement in which the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy updated the chamber on the convergence moneys. To state that that money has either been stolen or spent elsewhere shows that the Tories are either completely ignorant of how the system works, or that they are deliberately trying to mislead people. I do not know which is worse.

A long time ago, when it was proposed that we could move from the LFASS system to areas of natural constraints, the consensus among stakeholders was that the preference was to stay with LFASS, even though we knew that those reductions would take place. That is why we are attempting to use the money where it is needed most—in helping and supporting the farmers and crofters.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary met the Scottish Crofting Federation this week and that the agreement that has been reached to move things on has been cautiously welcomed by the federation and others. What else is the Scottish Government doing to support crofting and crofters?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The Government has a strong track record of investing in and supporting crofting in Scotland. In the last financial year alone, we have approved and provided croft businesses with over £46 million in common agricultural policy and other payments. Since 2007, we have approved over £20.3 million in croft house grants for croft housing and helped to build and improve over 970 homes for crofters and their families. We have also provided subsidised rates for crofters to hire health status bulls, subsidised veterinary support, and discounted fees for consultancy services through the farm advisory service for over 2,000 crofters who subscribe to it

The Government values crofting and the contribution that it makes, particularly to keeping people on the land in island and remote and rural areas, and we will continue to support and invest in it.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

As the minister said, the cabinet secretary announced that £10 million of the second round of funding will be brought forward to this year, leaving £70 million to be allocated. Does the Government still intend to continue to use this funding to plug the growing shortfall in LFASS and, if so, how much of the £70 million will be used to plug that gap and what will be left?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy will bring forward plans at that time as to how that further tranche of funding will be spent.