Degree of stability on payment claims amid uncertainty
Isuspect I wasn’t alone in spending the weekend desperately trying to get the annual Single Application Form-filling exercise finished before this Friday’s deadline.
Experience should have taught me that, no matter how much simpler I expect these things to be “this time round”, there’s always some minor issue to spring up and bite you on the backside if you leave it to the last minute.
In Scotland, of course, we haven’t got the luxury of an extra month which has been granted to our neighbours south of the Border to get the annual IACS exercise finished. To be honest, though, it probably wouldn’t have made that much difference.
I guess that’s why there wasn’t a clamour from the Scottish industry to get that extra month, for, while it was reported that the submissions were well ahead of those at the same time last year, the reason was probably a realisation that the pressure of a deadline was needed to get us to do our homework.
The other reason for not calling for an extension is that, if we get our forms submitted by the deadline, the authorities won’t be able to pass the blame back to us for any late payment at the other end.
But as we prepare to leave theeu,i guess it was probably good news to learn that last week we moved at least a step closer to being able to undergo the now familiar process again next year.
For, despite some fractious moments and a fair bit of acrimonious debate, Scotland’s Agriculture Bill got through its stage one reading at Holyrood.
Despite the political point-scoring, the Scottish
Government’s Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) Bill – to give it its proper title – gained the backing of most parties.
Now the bill ain’t rocket science, it’s really just a piece of “enabling” legislation which gives Scottish ministers the power to roll over current CAP schemes and their associated payments and rules. While that might provide the legal vehicle for making support payments next year, it doesn’t do much towards laying out any new ground plans for how support measures are going to develop in the longer term.
It has to be admitted, though, that the progress gives a degree of stability to the sector in the face of the twin uncertainties of Covid-19 and Brexit and brings us closer to confirmation that there will be some form of support payment scheme in operation next year.
As such, there was never likely to be much in the way of radical thinking, despite the calls for a road map and leadership on the direction of policy along with calls for a sunset clause to time limit the new powers which were made time and again during the debate.
I guess the best we can hope for from this legislation is the opportunity to at least tweak some of the major iniquities that have been visited on Scotland’s farmers through a regulatoryframework which covered the whole of Europe.
As we all know, many of these weren’t appropriate to the Scottish situation but they were rigorously policed by the EU auditors over the years. And the opportunity is there to make some of the penalties for minor mistakes more proportionate.
The original proposals were for new schemes to be piloted during the 202124 transition period, during which it will be “steady as she goes” on the policy front.
Even if these “test-pot” schemes do go ahead, it’s beginning to look unlikely that this bill will be used as the vehicle for driving through the longer term changes to agricultural policy.
However, there’s a lot of work to do here. Until recently the climate emergency might have been viewed as the major driving force but its almost total eclipse by the Covid-19 pandemic – which drew into sharp relief the fragility of the food supply chain – must also steer policy direction.
And, as we all know, important matters shouldn’t be left to the last minute.