By Martin Kelly
Westminster Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is facing demands for answers after the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Committee called for him to appear before them and explain why Scotland’s farmers are losing out on EU funding.
The calls follow a decision by the Westminster Government not to pass on EU agriculture payments worth up to around €230 million to Scottish farmers, despite the funding only accruing because of low payments to those same farmers.
Commenting, SNP MSP Rob Gibson said: “The frustration and anger that is being felt across Scotland’s farming sector is one that transcends party lines after this turn of events.
“The Rural Affairs Committee has rightly agreed that Scotland’s farmers should be the ones to benefit from additional CAP funding that the UK is only receiving because of the nature of farming in Scotland.”
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 decision by the Westminster coalition was made despite cross-party agreement in Holyrood that all of the money should come to Scotland.
The decision, which has angered Scotland’s farming community, will leave farmers in Scotland with the lowest level of CAP direct payments in the whole of the EU. Immediately after the announcement, the National Union of Farmers in Scotland summoned Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael to a meeting to demand a review of the decision.
Nigel Miller, President NFUS said: “It is a bitter blow that we have not secured an immediate uplift in our budget allocation.”
He added: “This decision greatly impacts on our members, and we need to fully address the competitive disadvantage that Scottish producers are facing,”
Norman Leask, Parliamentary Spokesman for Scottish Crofting Federation said: “We just want what is rightfully ours. 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.
“This decision by the UK Government can surely only be seen as a political heist. The Scottish upland areas have ‘earned’ this uplift and this is where it should be spent.”
The loss of the money has been compounded by revelations that had Scotland been independent then farmers here would have been in line to receive one billions euros between 2014 and 2019.
Mr Gibson added: “The Westminster Government’s decision to ignore this cross-party position is an extremely disappointing one and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency by Owen Paterson.
“There is no doubt that he should make time to appear before the Rural Affairs Committee before the end of this year and explain why Westminster is taking around €230 million out of the pockets of Scotland’s farmers.”
Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth said, “Farming has a huge impact on our environment especially on climate change emission. This money could have helped farmers manage manures and slurries better, to reduce climate emission, helped the transition to climate-friendly feed for livestock and ensured more farmers planted trees on their land.
“The missing millions will inevitably mean missed opportunities to do good for the environment with CAP funds.”