Scotland politics

Concerns raised over Scots farm payments loan scheme

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Image caption Thousands of Scottish farmers receive subsidy payments under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy

Farmers have raised concerns about fresh issues with subsidy payments overseen by the Scottish government.

Ministers have set up a loan scheme to get funds to farmers who are yet to receive Common Agricultural Policy subsidies because of IT issues.

However unions said there had been errors in calculating the loan offers sent out to hundreds of farmers.

A government spokeswoman said they "regret this miscalculation" and were acting to get payments out on time.

Opposition parties said the CAP payment scheme had become a "complete shambles".

Delivery of EU subsidies to thousands of Scottish farmers were affected by major issues with a £178m computer system which was set up in Scotland to administer CAP payments.

A report from the auditor general noted that the project had "faced serious challenges since the beginning" and had suffered "a number of failures" in the way it was managed.

Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing established a loan scheme to tide over farmers while payments worked their way through the system, saying the government had "learned lessons".

He said the new loan scheme would provide certainty for farmers and crofters over the winter, and would seek to "inject up to £300m into the rural economy, safeguarding jobs and local agricultural businesses".

However, the National Farmers' Union Scotland said they were contacted by members who had found errors in the calculations for their loans, as not all land was taken into account.

'Undermine confidence'

A Scottish government spokeswoman said the "miscalculation" was "nothing to do with the new IT system", saying they had "acted very swiftly to address it and ensure it doesn't affect the timetable for getting the loan payments to farmers".

NFUS chief executive Scott Walker said the government had "quickly acknowledged" the error and would be contacting each individual farmer or crofter involved.

However, he said the latest problem "will once again undermine confidence in it ever being capable of delivering".

He said: "To hear that another IT flaw has caused problems for the loan scheme is deeply disappointing.

"Measures have been put in place to quickly rectify the issue and it is essential that the individuals affected by this IT blunder still get their loan in November.

"Once again farmers and crofters will be justifiably asking when this system will ever be fit for purpose."

Image caption Opposition MSPs have called for Fergus Ewing to make a statement on the matter

Tory MSP Peter Chapman, himself a former vice-president of NFUS, said there had been "an absolutely catalogue of blunders" over the payments, adding that the loans themselves were a "sticking plaster to cover up the SNP's mistakes".

He said: "After months of delays costing millions of pounds, farmers have been left completely in the dark about which payments they have received, with no explanation offered for the sums that have been paid out.

"The Scottish government's handling of this process has been an absolute shambles. If this was the private sector, heads would be rolling."

Lib Dem agriculture spokesman Mike Rumbles called on Mr Ewing to make a statement to parliament over the matter, which he called "an utter farce".

He said: "There cannot be a farmer or crofter in the country who still has confidence in the ability of the Scottish government to manage their CAP payments effectively. It feels like this shambles will never end.

"The cabinet secretary needs to come to parliament and explain what steps are being taken to ensure that farmers affected by this blunder will still get their loans on time."

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