On 26 September 2018, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and farm payments, in the context of Brexit. In this he confirmed that farm and rural businesses will receive ‘…their current payment entitlements largely as they currently are, and not just in 2019 but in every year until 2022’.
This means that the bulk of the Scottish CAP budget will continue to be paid out to farmers through direct payments, in the short term at least. This type of payment has been widely criticised as it is not linked to the delivery of any clear outcomes, is inequitably distributed and fails to address many of the structural and environmental challenges within the agricultural sector. Scottish Environment LINK has long argued for reform of such farm payments and for funding to be focused instead on delivering public goods and on assisting the adaptation and development of farm and other land based businesses. LINK members accept the continuation of such payments only in the short term and in order to facilitate a transition to a new rural policy.
The good news within the Cabinet Secretary’s statement was that the Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme (AECS), which supports environmentally friendly farming methods, will be open for applications in 2019. This means farmers and land managers will be able to enter five-year agreements for carrying out land management that helps wildlife and be guaranteed payments. The bad news was the absolute lack of clarity from the Cabinet Secretary on what happens after that to this scheme and to a wide range of other schemes and payments that currently form part of Scotland’s Rural Development Programme (SRDP).
Vicki Swales, Convener of LINK’s Land Group said:
“The Scottish Government has been silent on this matter so far even though this part of the CAP is, to our and many other minds, that which actually delivers identifiable outcomes and which can be most easily defended in terms of the expenditure of public money. Clarity on what happens from 2020 until the proposed introduction of a new policy in 2024 is urgently needed. We suggest that AECS and other critical SRDP schemes including woodland grants and advisory services should continue to be funded and effectively rolled forward during any transition period.
“All of the above simply strengthens the case for decisions to be taken soon on what kind of future farm support we need and want from 2024. But here things get very muddy. Over the last 18 months or so, a number of groups have been established at the request of the Cabinet Secretary to look at a range of different issues. These included the Agriculture Champions, the Griggs Greening Group and the National Council of Rural Advisers. None of these appear to have been given a specific remit to advise on what future farm support should look like; indeed, the NCRA’s interim report was entirely silent on the matter of farming policy. While their final report published just last week does not expressly address agriculture and land use policy either, they do call for a more joined up way of thinking about the rural economy. We agree with this in principle, and welcome the alignment to the National Performance Framework, but stress that policy needs to be joined up across the whole rural sector, and include both environmental and social ambitions, as well as economic ones”.
“To confuse things further and add to the proliferation of groups, the recent Stability and Simplicity consultation proposed the establishment of a ‘Simplification Taskforce’ to run for 12 months to ‘consider responses to this consultation and determine and test possible changes in our operating approach, with the intention of improving the experience for recipients of CAP payments, reducing complexity in our systems and improving public value’. This suggested a focus on current CAP schemes rather than any new policy.”
In his statement to Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary also said: ‘we will get on with establishing a task force to produce measures that will simplify the farm and rural support payments system from 2022 onwards’ and he later added that ‘It is important that Parliament is given an opportunity to contribute its views. I therefore undertake to discuss with all parliamentary groups how best to achieve that, and to lodge a motion that will allow us to debate and, I hope, to agree the principles that will underpin Scotland’s future farm policy.’
Pete Ritchie, Leader of LINK’s Food and Farming Subgroup said:
“Exactly how the outcomes of these different groupings, processes, consultations and debates will influence Scottish Government’s thinking is anyone’s guess, especially given the lack of clarity of remit for many of them. Whilst there is useful material to draw on in all of the above we’ve reached a point where clarity, coherence and transparency are now paramount. Scotland needs to devise a fit for purpose system of farm support as a matter of some urgency.
We propose that the Cabinet Secretary ditches the idea of a ‘Simplification Taskforce’ and instead sets up a Future Farm Support Taskforce to work over the next 12-18 months with the following Terms of Reference:
‘To research, design and consult on a system of farm support which:
1) helps to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, to which Scotland is a signatory, and on the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework
2) meets public policy objectives on the production of healthy food, the provision of a range of public goods, and on the social cohesion of vulnerable rural areas
3) assists generational renewal and short food chains
4) is deliverable, equitable (taking into account disadvantages of geography, scale, tenure), auditable and evaluable.
The Taskforce will work transparently and will draw on the expertise and data held by the key research institutes, and will commission specific reports and impact assessments where needed.’
The membership of the Taskforce should be broad and inclusive across the range of public policy objectives future farm support will need to deliver on and its work should be supported by a dedicated secretariat provided by Government.
We’ll be pressing the Cabinet Secretary to take up our idea and to bring some much-needed clarity to what has been a messy and often confused state of affairs to date.”
For more information, please contact: Daphne Vlastari, LINK Advocacy Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org