Help for farming industry

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The Scottish Government is maintaining constant dialogue with the farming industry in a bid to help deal with weather-related issues as they arise during the current treacherous early winter snow and ice conditions.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said he and his officials were working closely with the NFUS and other key organisations in Scotland’s farming, food and environment sectors to anticipate difficulties and to take action where possible.

Among the latest activity has been the Scottish Government securing a four day extension, for Scotland only, to the relaxation in the enforcement of EU Drivers’ Hours rules from the Department for Transport. This extension – which runs until midnight on Sunday – applies to hauliers suffering supply chain problems caused by the recent heavy snowfalls and icy weather, and is on top of the longer-term relaxations already secured in Scotland for the delivery of animal feed and fuel oil.

Mr Lochhead also praised the efforts made by many farmers across the country who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in using their equipment and staff to help snow clearing and transportation efforts in their local communities.

The Cabinet Secretary said:

“Scotland has faced some extraordinary and very difficult weather conditions in the past two weeks, so it’s to the absolute credit of our farming and food industries that they have kept things running as well they have given the worst snow and ice conditions that our country has faced at this time of year for almost half a century.

“The faming industry is always in the front line where poor weather is concerned. But not only is the industry showing remarkable resilience in the these extremely challenging and hostile conditions, but many farmers – as they have done on the past – are going the extra mile to offer invaluable help and assistance in their local communities, helping clear roads and paths and providing transport assistance to those in need.

“I would also like to recognise the fantastic efforts that our supermarkets, retailers and all those involved in the food supply chain are making to keep deliveries moving to shops and stores.

“The Scottish Government remains in constant contact with all key stakeholders to ensure that their concerns and issues are picked up and dealt with, where possible, as quickly and effectively.

“This partnership approach has helped us secure vital relaxations of EU Drivers’ Hours rules, with a general relaxation now secured – for Scotland only – until midnight on Saturday, helping keep supplies and deliveries moving in and out of farms.

“This is on top of the specific longer term driver time relaxations that we have already secured for fuel oil and poultry feed deliveries. We will continue to work with the industry to monitor closely all transportation issues and consider whether further specific or general relaxations need to be applied for as appropriate.

“I am aware that a number of farm buildings have collapsed under the weight of snow and ice, and I fully support the advice of the NFUS in urging farmers to be vigilant by making personal safety their top priority. The NFUS is acting as a facilitator for farmers needing to find alternative accommodation urgently and the guidance issued last winter to Local Authorities that they should respond sympathetically in dealing with planning issues relating to snow damaged buildings very much still applies.

“The Scottish Government is also doing it all it can to process the vital Single Farm Payments, which became payable at the start of December. We have now seen a record number of farmers and crofters – 16,692 producers or 87 per-cent of the total – paid just over £400 million since the SFP payment window opened on December 1, providing tangible financial support at a time where the cost of feedstuffs and other running costs are high. My officials are working hard to process the remaining payments as a priority.”

The Scottish Government last week secured a relaxation of the enforcement of EU Drivers’ Hours rules from the Department of Transport, allowing HGV drivers additional driving time to ensure goods get to their destination. This has now been extended until 23:59 on Saturday 11 December.

For those drivers and work in question, the EU drivers’ hours rules will be temporarily relaxed as follows:

* Replace the EU daily driving limit of 9 hours with one of 10 hours
* Reduce the daily rest requirements from 11 to 9 hours.
* Lift the weekly (56 hours) and fortnightly driving limit (90 hours).
* Postponing the weekly rest requirement until 23:59 on 11 December 2010, at which stage a driver has to take a normal weekly rest of 45 hours.
* Notwithstanding the postponement of the weekly rest requirement (see preceding bullet point), a driver must take a minimum rest of 24 hours beginning no later than the end of the eleventh day since the end of his last weekly rest period.

The requirement to take a 45 minute break after 4½ hours driving remains and will continue to be rigorously enforced.

This is a partial relaxation for Scotland only, and applies in respect of journeys within Scotland, and only for hauliers suffering supply chain problems caused by the recent heavy snowfalls and icy weather.

Two other specific driver time relaxations were secured last week:

A temporary, emergency relaxation of the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours and working-time rules for hauliers involved directly in the distribution of fuel oil and petroleum related products to domestic, agricultural and small industrial premises was secured on Friday evening (3 December) and is effective until Friday 17 December.

The Scottish Government had an urgent application to the Department for Transport on Thursday 2 December granted for a temporary relaxation in Drivers’ Hours Rules to assist with the delivery of essential animal feed to poultry units across Scotland. This relaxation will last until midnight on 16 December.