Concerns are brewing about plans for a UK-wide independent review of agricultural payments, with calls for full consultation with crofters and the Comhairle and a barrage of complaints by local MSPs over the UK government’s handling of EU grants for crofters and farmers.
Under the plans announced by Westminster’s Environment, Food and Farming Minister, Michael Gove MP, an independent advisory panel will examine how funding for farming and crofting should be distributed, and the announcement included a pledge that, in future, the distribution model for Scotland will not be based on the Barnett formula.
As a result, Scotland’s allocation of funding will not be based solely on a simple share of the UK’s population.
But concerns have been expressed that the new review could amount to a defeat for the Scottish Government in its battle to secure back payment of so-called ‘Convergence Funds’ – additional payments made by the EU to the UK government intended to boost support for crofters and farmers in remote areas who have not received EU farm funds through other schemes.
The review will be led by Lord Bew of Donegore, and its aim is to provide recommendations for how the annual amount of Convergence Funding could be ‘fairly split’ between the four UK countries in the remainder of this Parliament once the UK has left the Common Agricultural Policy.
Talking about the review Councillor Donald Crichton, the Comhairle’s representative on the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-party group on Crofting, stated: “We would hope to be consulted as part of this review in order to clearly make the case for continued support for the crofting sector.”
Western Isles MSP, Dr. Alasdair Allan, said of the issue: “The fact that £160 million of convergence funding was withheld from Scotland’s crofters and farmers by the UK Government is frankly outrageous. This review is only taking place because of sustained pressure from the SNP government.
“Next year Scotland’s crofters and farmers will receive the lowest per hectare payments across the EU and the UK, and it’s disappointing – though not surprising – that the UK Government are running away from redressing this.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, also called for the Convergence Funds to be fully included in the grants paid to Scotland’s farmers and crofters, saying: “It is good that the review from the outset has recognised that the funding support to Scotland’s Agriculture cannot be ‘Barnettised’. We currently receive 17% of the UK’s CAP funding, and distributing funding going forward on the Barnett formula would have been catastrophic.
“However, we also believe that Scotland should have been given the convergence payments and this amount should also be factored in as Scotland’s share of the pot.”
The review is set to conclude prior to the 2019 Spending Review with the aim of informing future funding decisions.