Crofters have been ‘cheated’
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.