Furious farmers summon Carmichael to meeting after Westminster EU cash grab

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  By Angela Haggerty
 
Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael has been summoned to a crunch meeting by furious Scottish farmers after it emerged that Westminster is refusing to handover millions of euros in funding that was meant to be distributed in Scotland.
 
Stunned farmers told Carmichael – who signalled support just last month and said he sympathised with their plight – that they wanted €11m of the EU money, known as convergence uplift, to be paid upfront until a review of its allocation had been carried out.

If the position of the UK government does not change, Scotland will lose out on almost a quarter of a billion euros – money that was allocated by the EU solely because Scotland receives one of the lowest payments on a per hectare basis in Europe.

As a result, the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) told Mr Carmichael that it wanted a review of the decision and have insisted the cash “rightfully belongs in Scotland”.

Following the meeting with Mr Carmichael, NFUS president Nigel Miller told the Courier newspaper: “This decision greatly impacts on our members, and we need to fully address the competitive disadvantage that Scottish producers are facing.”

The UK government last week announced its decision to evenly distribute the cash boost of €223m from Europe – the total sum of payments due to be paid between 2014 and 2020 – between the four areas of the UK instead of passing the extra funding to Scotland.  The move was met with disbelief by Alan Smyth MEP, who immediately condemned the “remarkable” decision.

“I don’t use phrases like ‘slap in the face’ or ‘treating Scotland with contempt’, but it is difficult to dress this one up as anything else,” Mr Smyth said.  “This money only comes to the UK because of Scotland’s poor CAP budget allocation, and to see the funds go elsewhere – a badger goalpost moving cull perhaps! – is an outrage.”

The shock decision came despite a cross-party call from Scottish politicians at Holyrood, including the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem parties as well as the Scottish government, for the payment to be passed on. 

On Tuesday, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said that Westminster’s actions were “indefensible” and noted that an independent Scotland would have been in line to receive a staggering €1bn instead of the €230 now being withheld by the UK government.

In response to the news, the NFUS has written to the European Commission to seek clarification over the payment.  The union has also sought legal advice on the UK Government’s decision.

In a statement on the NFUS website, Mr Miller added: “We have written to the Commission to seek clarification on what safeguards it has in place to ensure transferred budgets are used to deliver true convergence within the recipient Member State.”

The money, amounting to almost a quarter of a billion euros over the next seven years, accrues purely because of the poor Common Agriculture Budget allocation awarded to Scotland’s farmers.  The decision will see Scottish farming losing out on €60million a year until 2020.

The convergence uplift payment forms part of a broader CAP reform, and EU member states are required to ensure that area payments to their farmers meet the EU average of €196 per hectare.  Scotland’s average payment currently sits closer to just €100 per hectare.

The Scottish Crofting Federation called the UK Government’s decision a “political heist”.

Following the announcement that the UK government intends to keep the additional cash, Norman Leask, SCF’s Parliamentary Spokesman said: “This decision by the UK government can surely only be seen as a political heist.

“The Scottish Government, with cross-party support, made the reasonable claim that the ‘convergence uplift’, as it is known, should come to Scotland.

“The only reason that the UK qualifies for the uplift is because of Scotland’s very low payments in the upland areas that bring the UK average down.”

Newsnet Scotland broke this story on Friday after being alerted by a statement issued by SNP MEP Alyn Smith.  On Tuesday Newsnet Scotland contacted Mr Carmichael asking for his response to the UK government decision.  We are still awaiting a response at the time of publication. 

Despite the massive sums involved, the decision by the Westminster Government to withhold the cash has yet to receive any significant coverage from Scotland’s media.  Mr Carmichael appeared on Newsnight Scotland last night but faced no questions on the issue from programme host Gordon Brewer.