Scottish Tories make manifesto pledge on farmer subsidies ICT ‘fiasco’

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called for an independent inquiry into the “fiasco” that has engulfed farmers’ subsidy payments.

The Scottish Government developed a new IT system to administer payments to farmers and crofters following reform to the Common Agricultural Policy last year.

Problems with the troubled IT system left thousands of farmers and crofters facing delays and forced ministers to offer cash advances.

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MSPs refused to back calls for a “full independent inquiry into the Scottish Government’s IT failures” earlier this month after SNPMSPs and Independent MSP Jean Urquhart voted against a Scottish Conservative motion.

However, the commitment to launch an inquiry features among a series of measures unveiled by Davidson as she launched the party’s rural plan, which will form part of their wider Holyrood manifesto.

Davidson said: “Our producers deserve better than SNP mismanagement. That’s why it’s essential the SNP’s CAP payments fiasco is properly investigated.

“This is not just a case of finger pointing – it’s about looking ahead to ensure these mistakes are not repeated. We need to identify what went wrong, fix the system and make sure it works in the future.

“Farmers need to plan ahead, but they can’t do that properly if they have no idea when – or how much – money is coming in.

“If the CAP payment fiasco had affected the central belt or urban Scotland, the SNP would have been quick to act. But because it was rural Scotland, they ignored the warnings and dragged their feet. The priority now is to make sure the CAP payments system works, which is why this inquiry is so important.”

The ‘Standing up for rural Scotland’ report issued by the Scottish Conservatives today also makes a pledge to provide universal broadband by the end of the decade

It was announced earlier this month that ministers would make up to £200m available in cash advances to those still waiting for their CAP claims to be processed by today.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament earlier this month, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “The IT system is working, but not anywhere nearly as quickly as we all want, and I fully accept that.

“Under the EU rules, we have to complete detailed checks on every claim before we can authorise payment, and it is only after payments are made that the EU reimburses us. The IT system has to validate each and every claim against 400,000 fields and more than 500 EU rules.

“I ask members to just think of that for a second: every claim involves 400,000 fields and more than 500 EU rules. Officials are constantly having to improve the IT system – which we are using for the first time and which Europe said that we had to build and implement – to speed up the process and unblock cases.

“We have drafted extra staff into our offices and our IT teams have been working day and night.” 

Colin Marrs

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