Less favoured ar­eas U-turn hi­jacks ru­ral pol­icy de­bate

PAY­MENTS: Fund­ing will not fall be­low 20%

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - FARMING - GEMMA MACKEN­ZIE

A “screech­ing U-turn” on cuts to Less Favoured Ar­eas Sup­port Scheme (LFASS) pay­ments hi­jacked a Holy­rood de­bate on the fu­ture of ru­ral pol­icy yes­ter­day.

The de­bate was over­shad­owed by news that LFASS pay­ments will re­duce by no more than 20% over the next two years.

Dur­ing his ad­dress to par­lia­ment, Ru­ral Econ­omy Sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ewing con­firmed that LFASS fund­ing would re­main at at least 80% of cur­rent lev­els, con­trary to an an­nounce­ment on Mon­day when Mr Ewing said pay­ments would re­duce by 20% this year and by 60%, or pos­si­bly even 80%, next year.

Mr Ewing said: “LFASS fund­ing for 2019 and 2020 will not fall be­low 20%. I will work to find op­tions to achieve that.”

He said gov­ern­ment would also do all it could to try to re­in­state funds in full.

The lat­est LFASS an­nounce­ment was de­scribed as a “screech­ing U-turn” by Con­ser­va­tive High­lands and Is­lands MSP Don­ald Cameron who said any cuts to LFASS would have a “cat­a­strophic im­pact on Scot­tish farm­ers and crofters”.

He added: “The Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary must en­sure that those farm­ing on ‘less favourable’ land are prop­erly sup­ported.”

Aside from the LFASS cuts an­nounce­ment, Mr Ewing said leg­is­la­tion would be in­tro­duced in this par­lia­men­tary ses­sion for a Scot­tish Agri­cul­ture Bill, although the pre­cise timetable for this was not con­firmed.

He also pledged to set up a group, at the re­quest of the Lib­eral Democrats to look at a be­spoke pol­icy for farm­ing and food pro­duc­ers, con­sist­ing of pro­duc­ers, con­sumer and en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The Tories re­peat­edly de­scribed Brexit as an op­por­tu­nity to de­sign a be­spoke sys­tem for Scot­tish agri­cul­ture, while north-east Lib­eral Demo­crat MSP Mike Rum­bles urged his peers to set aside party pol­i­tics and work to­gether to de­vise new ru­ral pol­icy.

Pic­ture: Kris Miller.

Mr Ewing said gov­ern­ment would do all it could to try to re­in­state funds in full.

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