Scottish beef industry expresses fears over government payments
Published:  16 February, 2016

The Scottish Beef Association (SBA) has said it is concerned about the prospect of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments not being made to all eligible farmers. 

According to the Scottish government, the scheme acts as a “safety net” for farmers by supplementing their main business income.

Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment, pledged in November to deliver payments to most farmers under the EU’s BPS programme by the end of January. Despite this, the SBA claimed that statistics published by the government at the end of January showed that only 24% of the eligible claims had been committed to.

It was reported that the Scottish government’s target was for half of the payments to be completed by the end of January.

“With the high cost to the farming community, coupled with the exceptionally poor performance of the Scottish governments computer system, it is more and more evident that a great number of eligible beef producers are likely to face extreme financial hardship,” explained Scott Henderson, SBA’s chairman.

“Instead of making the initial payment by the end of March, it is envisaged that this could now be delayed – most likely to the end of May or beyond. This raises more concerns with the consequential delay in payment of the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS), together with the Calf Scheme Money.”

The government’s computer program, which has been designed to process eligible claims for BPS, is apparently not proving to be an effective tool. Many farmers are said to have received confirmation of correct payments, only for them to be later flagged as validation errors created by computer inaccuracies.

As a result, the SBA is calling for an enquiry. At the very least, it wants the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee to launch an investigation into what it claims to have been a financial disaster for beef producers.

Furthermore, the group say that the government has failed to provide beef producers with firm dates of expected payments before the end of the year. On top of this, it also looks increasingly unlikely that the government will meet their own deadline to make the promised final payments by the end of April, said the SBA.

However, Lochhead has since announced a £20 million scheme, backed by the government, to enable more farmers and crofters to access loans whilst waiting for their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments - which falls under the BPS scheme.

Speaking at the National Farmers’ (NFU) Scotland annual conference, he confirmed that more than 7,300 payments have now been authorised, which equals about 40% of the 18,000 or so eligible claims.

“I fully recognise the cash flow issues facing Scottish agriculture as a result of difficult market and weather conditions coinciding with the biggest CAP reform ever,” explained Lochhead.

“The Scottish government continues to do everything in our power to get first instalments out to as many people as we can by the end of March and the balance of payments as soon as possible after that.”

He also stressed that the government is continuing to do everything it can against the challenge of implementing difficult CAP reforms.

“We are making progress,” he said. “However the extreme complexity of the policy we agreed with the industry in Scotland - which is being delivered by a brand new IT system that we are constantly working to improve - means it is taking longer than expected to process applications - and I am aware that as a result some farmers and crofters are facing hardship.

“That is why the Scottish government is taking further action to ease cash flow pressures in the sector by earmarking up to £20m to ensure those most in need can access the credit they require until their payments come through.

“We will work with NFU Scotland, banks and others to finalise the detail of the scheme and ensure it is available as quickly as possible and simple to access.”