Fears over economic impact of grant cuts

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Cuts to the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) would be ‘the worst possible news for crofters’, according to the Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee, Councillor Donald Crichton.

Proposals by the Scottish Government could see LFASS payments to crofters cut by 20 percent in 2019, and by 80 percent the following year.

Talking to the Gazette, Councillor Donald Crichton, who represents Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on the Cross Party Group on Crofting in the Scottish Parliament, said: “The [LFASS] payment makes up a significant proportion of support received by crofters in the Outer Hebrides, and cuts would be very damaging for the sector.

“Farming and crofting businesses have already been hit by lower prices and anticipated higher costs for the coming winter due to the very dry season on the mainland, where much of the winter keep is purchased.

“This is the worst possible news for crofters at an already difficult time.

“The government should reconsider this proposed cut to the LFASS budget.”

The Councillor’s claims come after NFU Scotland leaders met with Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, last Thursday and renewed their call on the Scottish Government to maintain LFASS support levels over the next two years, describing any cut as ‘unacceptable’.

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick, said: “Farmers and crofters in these disadvantaged areas provide a vast array of economic, environmental and social benefits to their local communities and Scotland as a whole.

“The essential LFASS payment does not just support farmers and crofters in rural areas but also the surrounding communities, getting reinvested into local businesses and almost immediately supporting the rural economy, providing employment and opportunities.”

The Scottish Government maintains that the proposed reductions in LFASS payments stem from the lack of certainty over future funding from UK government.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We agree that this is a vital support to Scotland’s hill and upland farmers.

“That is why we have pressed UK Ministers repeatedly to provide certainty on future funding, and we hope that NFUS and other stakeholder organisations will continue to support our efforts to ensure that we continue to get matched funding for the whole amount of LFASS for 2019 and beyond.

“We are absolutely clear that supporting our hill farmers and crofters is a priority. We have already pledged that LFASS will be paid at 100% for 2018, and 80% for 2019 - the maximum that EU rules will allow.

“Beyond that we are exploring all options and are working with the industry to identify ways to maintain this support. The bottom line is devolved agriculture powers should be returned to Scotland so we can tailor support to our unique needs.”

The Comhairle’s SNP group of councillors called for a unified approach to dealing with the potential grant cuts, and in a statement issued to the Gazette, said: “This is not good news for the crofting sector in the islands.

“LFA payments are a crucial part of a crofter’s income. With falling sheep prices, and it looking likely that feed prices for sheep and cattle will increase substantially over the coming winter, this news is another financial blow to the sector.

“Hopefully, with more lobbying by the main farming and crofting unions and politicians from across the political divide, some of the proposed cuts can be averted.”

If you are an active crofter, what would cuts to LFASS payments mean to you?

Are you thinking of ceasing crofting as a consequence of the difficulties crofters face?

If you would like to offer comment on this topic contact Peter Urpeth via email at: