'No comfort' for hill farmers as payments 'workaround' fails to materialise

Changes to EU rules mean payments must drop to 80% this year and 40% in 2020
Changes to EU rules mean payments must drop to 80% this year and 40% in 2020

Scotland’s hill farmers should be worried that Scottish government promises to uphold support payments in less favoured areas may not be upheld, MSPs have heard.

Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) payments are administered to farming businesses in areas of natural constraint.

Compulsory changes to EU regulations mean payments must drop to 80% this year and 40% in 2020.

On January 10, the Scottish government's rural economy secretary promised in the Holyrood chamber that Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) payments would not fall below 80% of current levels in this year or next.

However, MSPs heard Fergus Ewing was unable to update Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee on progress for 2020.

North East MSP, Peter Chapman told Mr Ewing that there is a 'real danger' that levels will be cut.

“I have heard nothing from you, Cabinet Secretary, or your support members here that anything has been achieved,” he said.

“You spoke about a workaround months ago and you’ve used that same phrase today, that you’re trying desperately for a workaround.

“I hear nothing that gives me or hill farmers across Scotland any comfort that you’re achieving anything towards doing that.”

Mr Chapman added: “I would be very worried, as most of the farming community will be, that you’re really not achieving much.”

The Scottish Conservative MSP also said the reduced LFASS share will “save the Scottish government money” because the EU income will still come in at the same level. Mr Ewing denied this.

However, the SNP-led Scottish government’s own budget document for 2019/20 shows a 20% cut to LFASS spending from £65.5m to £52.4m.

Mr Ewing said he had worked to maintain LFASS at 100% this year, although the decision had been taken by the EU Parliament.

He said: “I’m absolutely determined to find a workaround but these things are not straightforward.”

NFU Scotland previously warned the net result of cuts to LFASS, unless reversed, will be a further demise of the more extensive livestock sectors, the red meat sector in general, the Scotch brand it underpins, and the risk of yet more land abandonment in some quarters.