The Scottish government has been urged to be 'fully transparent' over the future of agricultural funding following 'evasive' answers at a parliamentary committee.
The calls come after the Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon was challenged on the issue at the rural affairs committee in the Scottish parliament.
Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary, Rachael Hamilton said that Ms Gougeon’s responses only “raises more questions” about whether the government were fully committed to funding the agriculture budget.
The Cabinet Secretary was quizzed about whether money that had been earmarked as “ring-fenced” has not been used to plug a “blackhole” elsewhere in the government’s finances.
Ms Gougeon was also challenged about £680m worth of funding that typically makes up the Scottish government's agricultural budget – the majority of which comes from the UK government – would remain at the same level in the budget for next year.
However, no direct answers were forthcoming from the Cabinet Secretary, who also failed to confirm when £33m – which was diverted away from the rural budget – would be returned.
In the Emergency Budget Review (EBR) in 2022, £33m of funding awarded to the fair allocation of agricultural support in the UK was deferred due to the cost-of-living crisis.
The then-Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney, publicly confirmed that the deferred budget would be returned to the sector, but no timeline was given.
Ms Hamilton said that the sector deserved “honest answers” over how they would be supported going forward and whether the agricultural budget would “bear the brunt” of any cuts.
She said: “The evasive performance from her at rural affairs committee failed to give any sort of clarity on whether money that was earmarked as ring-fenced has not been kept as ring-fenced funding.
“There was no answer to my questions about whether money from the agriculture budget has been used to plug the blackhole elsewhere in the SNP’s finances.
“The sector deserve honest answers from this SNP-Green government about how they will be supported going forward and if the agriculture budget will bear the brunt of any cuts."