Figures provided by NFU Scotland have shown that almost a third of Scotland’s farmers and crofters were still , last week, waiting for their EU farm payments – due to be paid by the Scottish Govenment’s Rural Affairs department in December 2015.
This inexcusable situation has persisted, despite a Scottish Government pledge to take swift action to address the problem – although that pledge to use government money after 1st April 2016 was, as For Argyll demonstrated, presented in a way that made it seem substantially more prompt and responsible than was the case.
Rural businesses and families have been starved of hundreds of millions in pounds due to delays in processing the EU funding, following the continung failure of a new £200 million software system – commissioned by Rural Affairs and supposed to process the CAP payment applications.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson met some of the affected farmers in Aberdeenshire today to discuss the ongoing issues that many producers are facing due to the SNP’s inept management of the crisis.
It took the threat of a mass protest by farmers at Holyrood, warnings of a ‘cash crisis’ in the sector and in its supply chain – and a call for a full independent inquiry – to force the Scottish Government to act, even as feebly as it did last month.
Ms Davidson said: ‘For many people in Scotland, the election campaign may be grabbing the attention but the fact is that thousands of farmers and crofters are still waiting to receive their CAP payments from the Scottish Government.
‘This was a failure of the SNP Government’s making.
‘I have been speaking to farmers today to discuss how best we ensure it is avoided in the future.
‘We are talking about people’s livelihoods and a key sector in our economy, but the SNP had taken their eye off the ball on this and many other issues.
‘Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon did not act until hundreds of farmers were preparing for a mass protest outside Holyrood, while Scottish Conservative MSPs were calling for a full independent inquiry into the fiasco.
‘The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly raised this issue in parliament and will continue to stand up for our farmers and crofters. We will be the strong opposition that Holyrood needs to hold the SNP to account.’
Problems with the failing Scottish Government IT system have already cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds in cost-overruns.
It has also emerged that ministers were warned that there were problems with the system – and failed to act.
One such warning even came – two years ago, from the senior authority of Scotland’s Auditor General, the independent public spending watchdog.
The Audit Commission is due to report on the issue again in May – and, feebly, has given in to government pressure and will not report until after the 5th May, when the Scottish Election.