EC seeks clarity in Scottish farm payments controversy

01-Mar-2016 @ 1:0

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The European Commission will seek to clarify reports that the Scottish Government could be fined if they fail to make Basic Payments to farmers on time, it confirmed today.

Speaking at a meeting of the ECR Rural Economy Policy Group in Brussels, a senior official said the Commission would examine if any powers existed should a member state fail to make payments within the window.

The move follows comments made by former National Farmers' Union of Scotland (NFUS) President Jim Walker, who claimed at the weekend that the EU could impose fines of up to £100 million if deadlines were not met.

During today's meeting, chaired by Conservative MEP Ian Duncan, NFUS Vice-President Rob Livesey questioned whether the Scottish Government was in danger of failing to meet its obligation to make payments by June 30.

At First Ministers' Questions last week Nicola Sturgeon admitted that farmers may have to wait until June for their payments, despite Scottish Farming minister Richard Lochhead initially promising that all payments would be made by the end of December 2015.

Mr Duncan, Conservative MEP for Scotland, said: "No-one wants fines but if the Scottish Government is at risk of failing to meet the deadline, we need to know now.

"Farmers must be asking themselves just what is going on. First they were promised payments in December, only for Mr Lochhead to pay just 18 per cent of them less that than they were due on Hogmanay. Then hill and sheep farmers were told they would not receive their money on time due to the backlog. Now we hear the Scottish Government's sheer incompetence could lead to more costs for the taxpayer, on top of the £200 million they have already spent on the IT system.

"Last week Ruth Davidson called on the First Minister to step in and take personal charge. Frankly, that is something else that is long overdue."

Mr Livesey urged that the money be paid out as soon as possible.

"If the Commission could remove the fear of fines, the Scottish Government could make an interim payment based on their best estimate, and pay the balance once all the required checks are made," he said. "There is a real crisis within the rural sector. It's not just about farmers but the many businesses along the supply chain who are struggling with outstanding debts. The Scottish Government needs to do whatever it can to take some pressure off Scottish farmers and farm businesses."

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