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- Farming and rural
Ewing: Future planning virtually impossible.
Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has written to the UK Government to seek more detail on future funding arrangements for the agricultural sector post-Brexit to support our rural economy.
In his letter to the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, Mr Ewing seeks a clear statement on precisely what is guaranteed post-Brexit to support our rural economy as without certainty of funding and the support schemes, forward planning is virtually impossible.
Mr Ewing’s letter said:
While I welcome the guarantee for LFASS 2019, I am disappointed that it took nine months for this to be confirmed and I hope this will not be the case for further guarantees, as there are still a number of unanswered questions about CAP. It is vital that we get a clear statement about precisely what is guaranteed post-Brexit to support our rural economy.
It is essential that the current lack of clarity around your 2017 manifesto commitment to match existing levels of farm support until 2022, and how this fits with the recent announcement around guarantees for LFASS in 2019, is resolved, and that more detail on future funding arrangements for the agricultural sector post-EU exit is provided.
You may be aware that earlier this week, I gave a statement to the Scottish Parliament and published a Common Agricultural Policy – Plan for Stabilisation. The plan addresses our delivery of CAP, but also aims to prepare business for an uncertain future. I have done this as I recognise that farmers, foresters and businesses need to forward plan, often years ahead. However, without certainty of funding and the schemes that will allow farmers and other rural businesses to access this funding, forward planning is virtually impossible.
At your recent speech at a WWF event, you stated “This Government has pledged that when we leave the EU we will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022”, but, there is no clarity of what this means. I hope that you are referring to a transition period for all aspects of CAP Pillar 1 and 2, at current funding levels, with the ability for each administration to continue the current schemes as they see fit, until there are substantive discussions on the future. However, I would appreciate if you could confirm my assumption, including a response to the following points:
- Confirmation that this statement covers both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 of the CAP.
- Confirmation that it includes CAP Pillar 2 funding in its entirety, which includes farm support such as LFASS and new entrants schemes, along with support for forestry, other enterprises and communities.
- If the whole of CAP Pillar 2 is not included, how is it to be decided which funding streams are ‘farm support’?
- Confirmation of whether the statement just guarantees the budget, or preferably allows Scottish Government to deliver the funding through the current schemes with adequate flexibility to ensure that they are designed to meet the outcomes for Scotland.
- Confirmation of what 2022 refers to. I hope this means applications submitted in 2022 on the Single Application Form (SAF), or contracts entered into in the 2022 calendar year for those schemes that do not use the SAF, which are then paid in subsequent years.
I wish to re-iterate the importance of Scotland’s agriculture sector, which is dominated by livestock farmers and crofters, with 85% of Scotland’s agricultural land classed as Less Favoured Area. It is crucial that support for farmers is maintained at current levels, to both support our farming sector, and for the upstream and downstream benefits it brings to communities and wider rural businesses. Any cessation, or even hiatus, of support risks significant impacts beyond the farming sector, to Scotland’s rural economy, including risking land abandonment and rural depopulation; Scotland’s environment, the contribution to food production and the supply chain; and, even public health. For example sheep contribute to tick control, potentially reducing the risk of Lyme disease, a disease in humans that can be fatal. Diagnosis of Lyme Disease in Scotland have increased while the sheep population decreased over the last 12 years. Mass pasture abandonment may exacerbate the problem.
Similarly, it is vital our efforts to stimulate innovation and support collaboration across a range of sectors, alongside targeted investments in non-agricultural sectors such as food, tourism and forestry are continued. Scotland’s forests and woodlands are prime economic, environmental and social assets, providing around £1 billion in GVA annually to the economy, supporting around 25,000 jobs and contributing significantly to our climate change plans. However, new woodland planting takes years of planning and preparation, so certainty of funding streams is essential to preserve this key sector in Scotland.
Finally, our continued investment in the implementation of the LEADER approach across rural and coastal Scotland is vital to ensuring that local partnerships have the means to implement their local priorities and target funding to meet the needs of local businesses and communities. Any hiatus in funding will have a detrimental impact on the work of these cross sectoral partnerships.
Also, you will recall that when we met at the Royal Highland Show I raised again our claim for transfer to the Scottish Government of £160 million convergence money, which you promised to look into and get back to me. I look forward to that happening soon.
I hope this helps you to understand why, on behalf of thousands of businesses, I am seeking a clear statement on confirmation of funding guarantees for CAP Pillar 1, and the whole of Pillar 2.