Our Farming Communities Deserve Better

It seems that whenever plans are announced for a new multi-million pounds publicly funded IT system, it’s only a matter time before we hear stories of spiralling costs and huge delays.

We’ve seen it in the NHS, with Police Scotland and more recently with the Scottish Government’s new computer system set up to deliver the CAP payments to farmers. The project was originally meant to cost £70m but this rocketed to £170m.

Rural Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochead has been forced to account to Parliament on several occasions for the expensive and costly failure of his new system.

This week it was revealed that a result of this failure only one third of Scottish farmers and crofters have received any CAP payments that traditionally arrive in early December. To make matters worse, Richard Lochead was warned over a year and a half ago that there was a risk this could happen but neglected to put robust measures in place to prevent it.

Many farmers have now taken out loans to tide them over. With the fall in milk prices running alongside this fiasco many farmers are in a dire position.

The head of NFUS summed up the issue on Wednesday when he said: ‘in short, the wheels of Scotland’s vital rural economy have stopped turning, the debt levels being carried by those who service our industry are growing and the worry and frustration for farmers and their families continues to build.

It’s clear that time is running out for farmers and we need far more decisive action from the Scottish Government than we’ve seen to date. It must now take responsibility for its failures and ensure that farmers receive an interim payment of at least 50%.

Moreover, as the RACCE committee recommended in its inquiry into dairy farming, action is need to deliver new processing facilities in Scotland, so that we have opportunities for the dairy industry to find new markets. This would help them to survive in the short-term and ensure a more secure future for the industry.

Once the mess has been resolved, and it must be resolved very soon, the Scottish Government must conduct a detailed review of what went wrong with new CAP payment system, to ensure that the same mistakes are not made in the future, in order to protect farmers, the rural economy and taxpayers’ money.

The worry and economic uncertainty from the mismanagement of these payments is hitting farming communities across the country. They deserve better.