Union blasts cut in aid

The Oban Times - - FARMING - By Martin Laing [email protected]­times.co.uk

Farm­ing lead­ers have blasted an an­nounce­ment from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment that as­sis­tance un­der the Less Favoured Area Sup­port Scheme is to re­duce.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment an­nounced this week that hill farm­ers and crofters in Scot­land's most re­mote ar­eas will con­tinue to re­ceive fundin­gun­der the Less Favoured Area Sup­port Scheme (LFASS) into 2020.

It said: ‘Fol­low­ing com­pul­sory changes to reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing LFASS made by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, LFASS sup­port will be re­tained at 80 per cent in 2019 and 40 per cent in 2020 – the only part of the UK to con­tinue such a pay­ment.'

Ru­ral Econ­omy Sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ew­ing said: ‘LFASS is cru­cial for our hill farm­ers and crofters op­er­at­ing in some of our most re­mote and marginalised ar­eas. That is why I am pleased to con­firm they will con­tinue to re­ceive pay­ments at 80 per cent and 40 per cent into 2020.

‘I fully ac­cept that this is not ideal, but un­der changes to EU reg­u­la­tions there is no op­tion but to re­vise pay­ment rates down. Im­por­tantly, we are clear this change will not im­pact on those who re­ceive the min­i­mum pay­ment of £385, which is not be­ing re­duced.

‘Our hill farm­ers and crofters con­tinue to face sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges from both ad­verse weather and Brexit un­cer­tain­ties, and we are al­ready see­ing re­duced live­stock num­bers and land aban­don­ment.

‘There­fore, I will con­tinue to strongly push for fur­ther re­vi­sions and have sub­mit­ted pro­posed amend­ments to give more flex­i­bil­ity in set­ting the rates for 2020 – a move I fully ex­pect the UK Gov­ern­ment to sup­port.'

For 2020, the EU reg­u­la­tions cur­rently re­quire a fur­ther re­duc­tion to 20 per cent, which Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has said is un­ac­cept­able. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion re­cently an­nounced a pro­posed change to reg­u­la­tion which could see that pay­ment rise to 40 per cent of cur­rent rates.

Mr Ew­ing dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of any fur­ther flex­i­bil­i­ties in the pro­posed reg­u­la­tion when he met Com­mis­sioner Phil Ho­gan when he was in Brus­sels in De­cem­ber.

How­ever, Jon­nie Hall, NFU Scot­land's di­rec­tor of pol­icy said: ‘While the com­ments from Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment come as no sur­prise, any short­fall in LFA sup­port re­mains com­pletely un­ac­cept­able to NFU Scot­land. This is cur­rently a top pri­or­ity for the union and we con­tinue to meet with Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to press for work­able so­lu­tions to make good any short­fall

‘We be­lieve there are both prac­ti­cal and le­gal ways for­ward to re­solve the LFASS short­falls for 2019 and 2020. The is­sue now is whether Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is will­ing to run with such ap­proaches and to fully re­store the £65 mil­lion LFASS bud­get which is more crit­i­cal than ever.

‘The net re­sult of cuts to LFASS, un­less re­versed, will be a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in cash­flow to our most ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, chal­leng­ing our more ex­ten­sive live­stock sec­tors and the Scotch brand it un­der­pins and the risk of yet more agri­cul­tural land aban­don­ment in some quar­ters.

‘LFASS pay­ments pro­vide a vi­tal fi­nan­cial life­line to those who are try­ing to eke out a liv­ing from some of the hard­est land in the coun­try. For them to lose out on any of this sup­port would not only be dev­as­tat­ing for their busi­nesses but also for the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments which they sus­tain.

‘Given a pri­mary ob­jec­tive of LFASS or ANC sup­port is the pre­ven­tion of land aban­don­ment, it is un­de­ni­able that con­ti­nu­ity of LFASS pay­ments at cur­rent lev­els is needed in or­der to en­sure con­tin­ued agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity in re­mote and more dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas.

‘Crit­i­cal LFASS pay­ments are a sig­nif­i­cant in­jec­tion of cash flow in to ru­ral economies – and this money is spent lo­cally by ac­tive farm­ing busi­nesses to sup­port lo­cal em­ploy­ment and pro­vide new op­por­tu­ni­ties. The union's po­si­tion is that the LFASS pay­ments are ab­so­lutely vi­tal and any cut in them must be avoided at all costs. This is a mes­sage we con­tinue to take to our po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.'

Jon­nie Hall from the NFUS says LFASS is vi­tal for re­mote and ru­ral farm­ers and crofters.

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