Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Secretary in the Scottish Government confirmed that the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme will continue to be funded in Scotland to 80% in 2020.
During a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Future Policy and Support in Scotland Fergus Ewing gave this assurance to farmers and crofters at a time of great uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on the sector.
The Scottish Government has produced a paper: Stability and Simplicity. The paper attempts to give some certainty for the next 2 years and up to 5 years.
Fergus Ewing said:
“Sustainability, simplicity, innovation, inclusion, productivity and profitability are core objectives. Those objectives are designed as a starting point rather than an exhaustive list….we need to create policy and support for Scotland’s rural economy that allows it to succeed.”
“Less favoured areas funding for 2019 and 2020 will not fall below 80% of LFASS. I and my officials will continue to work with stakeholders to find options to achieve that.
“Further, as I have previously committed to, any additional funding arising from Lord Bew’s convergence review, which is now under way, will be prioritised for that purpose. If there are sufficient moneys, we will effectively reinstate funding levels to 100% of LFASS.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that, in the future, this Government will continue to ensure that the most marginalised farmers and crofters receive additional financial support that acknowledges the difficulties under which they farm and steward our countryside.”
Fergus Ewing was unable to give a date for a Scottish Agricultural Bill to be brought before the Scottish Parliament but there is one currently going through the UK Parliament. Farming is currently devolved but is one of the many powers which will be taken back by the UK Government when the UK leaves the EU.
Donald Cameron MSP for the Conservatives attacked the cut in support to LFASS even though Scotland is the only part of the UK where this is to continue. The Tories criticised the Scottish Government for lack of clarity on the plan and felt they were delaying legislation by holding a lot of consultations.
Rhoda Grant MSP for Labour felt that the proposals lacked ambition and did “not recognise the needs of our more remote rural areas, which have higher costs due to the distance from market and suppliers.”
The Scottish Greens understandably flagged up the effect of climate change. They also felt the proposals lacked ambition.
Mark Ruskell MSP said:
” It is time for us to use our most powerful non-punitive measures and directly link farm support to action on climate change and the delivery of other, wider public goods.
“That means embedding the principle of a net zero target into our farm support scheme and financially rewarding farmers for actions such as reducing reliance on industrial fertilisers while building soils as healthy carbon sinks through agroecological farming and agroforestry.
“Alongside essential flood management work, many of those approaches can be rolled out on a catchment-wide scale, but that needs co-ordination between farms”
Mike Rumbles for the Liberal Democrats sought to put party differences aside to back the proposals.
Brexit dominated the debate.
Bringing the debate to a close Fergus Ewing said:
“We have provided a set of proposals that will take us forward through Brexit. We do not support Brexit but, as a responsible Government, we have to prepare for the worst and for every option, and we are doing that.
“This document is the only document in the UK that sets out a series of plans for five years to 2024. I fully appreciate that some members are impatient to hear what policies we might be implementing in 2029 but, to be fair to ourselves and to the respondents to our consultation document, the farmers and crofters throughout the country who have welcomed the certainty and stability of our proposals for continuing to provide financial support to them in the most uncertain of times, it takes chutzpah to a new level of brazen effrontery to criticise us for not going beyond five years and 2024 when the Conservative Government cannot tell us what will happen next Tuesday.”
None of the amendments succeeded but the proposals were eventually passed with SNP, Labour and LibDems voting for (83), Conservatives voting against ( 27) and the Scottish Greens abstaining (6).
Motion agreed to
>That the Parliament acknowledges that future policy for Scotland’s rural economy should be founded on key principles, including sustainability, simplicity, innovation, inclusion, productivity and profitability;
>recognises that it should seek to maintain flourishing communities, enable farmers and crofters to continue to deliver high-quality goods and services through food production and stewardship of the countryside and Scotland’s natural assets, and encourage diverse land use;
>calls on the UK Government to deliver a fair allocation of future rural funds to Scotland, including fully replacing all lost EU funding, that will allow development and implementation of a funding support scheme that meets rural Scotland’s needs and interests;
>further calls on the Scottish Government to convene a group consisting of producer, consumer and environmental organisations to inform and recommend a new bespoke policy on farming and food production for Scotland, and agrees that the Parliament should legislate for future rural policy.
After the debate the Scottish Greens attacked the proposals passed by the Parliament.
Mark Ruskell MSP said:
“The expert warnings of climate emergency could not be any starker. We have just over a decade to change course dramatically, but the SNP continues to ignore the evidence and show no increased climate ambition.
“Farming can be part of the solution – and many farmers are taking action to cut emissions – but they need help. We should be using subsidies to reward farmers who maximise the potential of our soils, grassland and trees to lock up carbon from the atmosphere. That’s why Greens insist that future rural funding must have net-zero emissions as a driving purpose.
“It’s clear the SNP has kowtowed to weak arguments from parts of the farming lobby which ignore the potential for greener farming and land management practices to offset the unavoidable emissions from livestock. Those farmers who want to change deserve better leadership and a Government that faces up to the urgency of our climate crisis.”
Fergus Ewing said:
“The continuing uncertainty over Brexit is not helpful. We are having to transition out of LFASS without being able to create a new system to move into. I consulted industry bodies and key influencers on moving to the Area of Natural Constraint scheme shortly after the EU referendum vote and the majority response was not to do so, particularly in the light of Brexit.
“As I have previously said, any additional funding arising from the convergence review, will be prioritised for this purpose – if there is sufficient monies, we will effectively reinstate LFASS funding levels to 100%. In the meantime, I remain absolutely committed to maintaining LFASS at the 80% funding level into 2020.”
You can watch the full debate here. It starts 32 minutes in