Crofters have been ‘cheated’

The Oban Times - - Farming -

CROFTERS have been ‘cheated’, the Scot­tish Croft­ing Fed­er­a­tion claims, by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion not to in­tro­duce the planned Ar­eas of Nat­u­ral Con­straint sup­port scheme.

The gov­ern­ment has, in­stead, opted to re­duce sup­port pay­ments to frag­ile ar­eas.

‘The gov­ern­ment has re­neged on its prom­ise,’ said fed­er­a­tion chair­man Russell Smith, ‘ which was made in the lead up to this phase of the Com­mon Agri­cul­ture Pol­icy. For years gov­ern­ment and stake­hold­ers have been work­ing on the Ar­eas of Nat­u­ral Con­straint (ANC) sup­port scheme, which was to re­place the Less Favoured Ar­eas Sup­port Scheme (LFASS).

‘LFASS has been con­sis­tently mis­used by Scot­land to di­vert pub­lic money in­tended for sup­port to the frag­ile ar­eas to act as a top-up for the in­dus­try farms on bet­ter land. Crofters have had to put up with be­ing thrown the scraps for decades, but the Euro­pean di­rec­tive that LFASS has to stop by the end of this year looked like the light at the end of the tun­nel for mar­ginal ar­eas. LFASS was to be re­placed with the ANC scheme which would be much more favourable for those con­strained ar­eas that ac­tu­ally need the sup­port.

‘ANC could have re­placed LFASS years ago, but agri­cul­tural in­dus­try lob­by­ists con­vinced the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to keep the change un­til the last minute. Now the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has de­cided to take the penalty op­tion in­stead. If LFASS is not re­placed with ANC, it has to be re­duced by 20 per cent, and then ev­ery year re­duced fur­ther.

‘So, in­stead of an ex­pected in­crease in pay­ment, crofters are faced with the cer­tainty of a 20 per cent cut in sup­port. This seems to be the worst of all op­tions for crofters.’

Mr Smith con­tin­ued: ‘ With Brexit or in­de­pen­dence on the cards, we are mov­ing into a new era of Scot­tish agri­cul­tural pol­icy. In­tro­duc­ing ANC now, even at this late stage, would have shown a com­mit­ment by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to sup­port­ing the pe­riph­eral ar­eas in the un­cer­tain times to come.

‘In­stead the Scot­tish Gov- ern­ment has cho­sen to cut the in­come of croft­ing fam­i­lies in some of the most re­mote and frag­ile ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Scot­land.’

Ru­ral econ­omy sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ewing said: ‘I un­der­stand the Scot­tish Croft­ing Fed­er­a­tion’s frus­tra­tion. And I want to as­sure them and crofters that I have given this is­sue the most care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion. The over­whelm­ing view was that chang­ing to an ANC scheme would add un­wel­come un­cer­tainty and up­heaval at this time.

‘ We are in a sit­u­a­tion not of our own mak­ing and one that is not easy to re­solve given the wider un­cer­tainty caused by the out­come of the EU ref­er­en­dum and the un­help­ful si­lence from the UK gov­ern­ment on fund­ing for LFASS – or in­deed, any suc­ces­sor scheme in 2019.

‘The Euro­pean rules do not per­mit us to con­tinue with LFASS un­changed af­ter 2017.

‘EU ex­pects a change from LFASS to an ANC scheme in 2018. A 2016 com­mis­sion guid­ance pub­li­ca­tion on ANC al­lows for those mem­ber states that do not make the tran­si­tion to ANC in 2018, to con­tinue with LFASS pay­ments pay­ing 80 per cent of pay­ments in 2018. This will pro­vide sta­bil­ity of fund­ing and sup­port for our farm­ers and crofters.’

A sup­port­ive NFU Scot­land pres­i­dent Andrew McCor­nick said: ‘The vast ma­jor­ity of ac­tive LFA farm­ers and crofters strug­gle to un­der­stand why we need to change a scheme which is largely work­ing and de­liver- ing for them. We have tried to con­vince Europe to keep our scheme but th­ese chan­nels are now ex­hausted and change is re­quired.

‘We have worked with the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment on the de­sign of this parachute pay­ment scheme for 2018. We be­lieve it avoids the very oner­ous and re­stric­tive rules that a Euro­pean-ap­proved ANC scheme would have brought and avoids the risk of a big re­duc­tion in sup­port for some farm­ers and crofters posed by a move to ANCs com­pared to ex­ist­ing LFASS pay­ments.

‘ While the parachute op­tion is not ideal, it is sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than the cliff edge of ANC pay­ments that ac­tive up­land beef and ex­ten­sive hill sheep pro­duc­ers faced.’

All six elected and three ap­pointed croft­ing com­mis­sion­ers met for the first time on March 28 in Great Glen House in In­ver­ness. The com­mis­sion­ers had a chance to have an in­for­mal chat and get to know each other over cof­fee be­fore get­ting down to busi­ness meet­ing Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to dis­cuss the fu­ture of croft­ing leg­is­la­tion. In the af­ter­noon, com­mis­sion­ers con­sid­ered how to work to­gether as a board. The com­mis­sion­ers then held their first board meet­ing on Wed­nes­day March 29 in Great Glen House.

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