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Rural Affairs Secretary updates MSPs on farm funding timetable.
The Scottish Government remains on course to begin making the first direct farm payments by the end of December, Rural Affairs Secretary has confirmed.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Lochhead said the first payment run will get underway before Christmas – meaning payments will start arriving in bank accounts before the end of the year.
The Rural Affairs Secretary said:
"I can confirm that the Scottish Government remains on track to begin making farm payments by the end of December. The first payment run – to about 25 per cent of farmers – will get underway before Christmas with payments beginning to arrive in farmers' accounts before the New Year.
"I said last month that the first instalment would be at least 70 per cent – but if we could pay more, we would. That remains the case and my officials are working flat out to process claims as quickly as possible as we implement very difficult and complex Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms.
"The scale of the challenge we face is truly staggering – with around four million payment entitlements to issue - covering around 400,000 fields - and around 21,000 Single Application Form (SAF) applications to process, as well as 1,300 farms to inspect. We have also had to deal with four separate CAP audits from EU institutions since September.
"This has clearly been a major undertaking. We must do everything we can to avoid Scottish farmers facing incorrect payments, or the loss of funding through EU disallowance that their counterparts elsewhere faced in the past.
"I would like to thank farmers for their patience at this time, and to urge any individuals who are experiencing difficulties to contact their local area office or the new RPID customer helpline that launched last week."
The EU payment window runs from 1 December to June. Following EU reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Scottish Government has been required to implement a complex new regime at the same time as moving to a system where payments are based on area, rather than historic production.
The Cabinet Secretary announced the timetable for 2015 direct farm payments on 17 November: http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Farm-payments-timetable-1f64.aspx
The Entitlements and Payments Information Helpline can be contacted on 0300 300 2222. Staff will answer any questions about the letters we will be issuing over the next few months, general queries about new entitlements, and questions about payments for the 2015 scheme year (for the Basic Payment Scheme). Lines are open from 8.30am to 5pm on Monday to Thursday and from 8.30am to 4.30pm on a Friday.