2. Ministerial Foreword
"No change is not an option." This was one of the conclusions by the Agriculture Champions and that premise also features strongly in the discussion paper published by the National Council of Rural Advisors: "now is the time to change the way we think, act and operate to tailor bespoke policy frameworks".
And while we neither voted for, nor want Brexit here in Scotland, change now seems inevitable. What we must therefore determine is how far we go and importantly, how fast. My priority in the short-term is to provide people in rural businesses with as much security as possible and this paper sets out options to try and achieve this.
We are having to navigate our future through a bewildering set of uncertainties and planning for several possible scenarios. We do not yet know when we might be made to leave the EU – it might be 29 March 2019, it might be the end of 2020 or at some date, as yet unknown. There is little clarity over funding. We have a commitment to provide the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the current UK Parliament, and for contracts entered into before the end of March next year to be honoured. But that is all. We continue to seek additional information around future funding.
In the near future, we might not even have the powers over farming, food production and environment previously devolved to Scotland with which to make the best of things. We might have no say over future policy or funding schemes, even though we have distinct Scottish needs that differ significantly from the rest of the UK. But we can no longer wait for Westminster and must get on with determining our own future. People deserve security and stability in the short-term.
In this context, the Agriculture Champions' recommendation and rationale for a three to five year transition period is compelling. This would provide the space we need to properly develop and devise a new and different approach for Scotland.
In the short-term, I am proposing that support schemes for active farming, food production, environmental improvements, forestry and rural development fundamentally stay largely the same. However, where schemes and processes can usefully be simplified and streamlined, we should do so.
I also want to hear views on the longer term direction of travel. All ideas and proposals will be explored as part of the wider civic conversation around how best to sustain a vibrant and flourishing rural economy in the future.
There is no doubt that the next few years are going to be extremely challenging for rural Scotland. The Scottish Government is determined to do all it can to provide security, simplicity and stability. Your views, knowledge and experience are needed to inform this mission. So thank you for taking part in this consultation.
Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity