ICT failure costs Scottish hill farmers millions in EU payments

Hill farmers in Scotland face delays in receiving European Union subsidies due to the failure of a £178m ICT system introduced by the Scottish Government.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead yesterday said that payments under the Les Favoured Areas Support Scheme will be made by the end of March, weeks later than the usual date at the beginning of the month.

But the National Farmers Union Scotland said that it believed that delays could be more substantial.

Lochhead said: ““This is the first year of a radically reformed and exceptionally complex Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which has had a knock-on effect on payment schedules here in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. Whilst I have always been clear that decisions taken with the industry on the complexity of the new policy would prove extremely challenging to implement, it is taking far longer to make payments than we had hoped.

“The majority of Scottish farmers and crofters have now received a direct payment worth about 80 per cent of their basic and greening claim and the Scottish Government is applying every measure to ensure the IT system is able to make speedier payments.”

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But NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie said that if outstanding basic payments of around £300m are added to the LFASS budget of £65 million, then £365m is missing.

He said: “NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “What is particularly frustrating about Scottish Government’s failure on LFASS delivery is that this is not a new scheme and it is not a new budget, therefore excuses about IT and complexity of the new CAP are meaningless.

“The LFASS budget has been ring-fenced at £65 million, something which NFUS has lobbied hard for, and the scheme rules for 2016 are relatively unchanged from when the scheme was introduced 15 years ago.

“Although Scottish Government has said LFASS payments will only be delayed by a few weeks we don’t believe them.”

Earlier this week, MPs said that the Government Digital Service had “hindered delivery” of another rural payments programme.

Colin Marrs

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