There can be no doubt Scottish farming has ended the week with a good dose of the jitters.
The key to CAP support payments is the Single Application Form (SAF), and without its succesful completion there will be no Basic Payment Scheme money, and real hardship for many.
The SAF window opened online on Monday and although a handful of pioneers have completed the process, others seem to be having problems. Hence the nervousness.
Yesterday a source close to the process claimed in an email sent to a number of newspapers that the system was inherently flawed and not fit for purpose.
The source spoke of £500,000 per month being paid by Scottish Government to computer specialists CGI, with the last payment of eight made only yesterday morning, leaving the relevant department without enough funds to buy pens and paper.
There was a further accusation that the new Rural Payments and Services website was not fit for purpose, incomplete, and had been rushed through to meet the March 15 deadline with the sole aim of avoiding massive EU fines.
However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman responded: “These claims are nonsense.
“The contract for developing Rural Payments and Services was awarded to CGI in March 2013 after a competitive tendering process, in line with established procurement processes, and the Scottish Government has a completely separate budget for this project.
“There is no requirement for Rural Payments and Services to be hosted on a .gov domain, and the site has been thoroughly checked against government IT standards, by experts independent of the programme, prior to its public launch in January.
“The project also remains subject to appropriate scrutiny and oversight by auditors and the Scottish Parliament.
“We know that some customers have been experiencing issues with the Rural Payments and Services system during the first week of the Single Application Form window. We have a team that is constantly monitoring the system, and we are working flat-out to sort any issues that arise.”
Brian Pack, author of the Pack Inquiry into CAP reform and of the Doing Better report into red-tape reduction, last night called for calm.
“We are in a really difficult period at the moment because everything is new and different. Every wee glitch gets blown out of proportion,” he said.
“No new computer system has ever been installed without some problems but, remember, this one has been designed to help farmers.
“This is a really ambitious programme and it will have the capability to deliver many of the recommendations made in my red tape report, and will in time make life easier.”
Scotland is not alone in facing problems.
The Rural Payments Agency in England made the dramatic decision this week to issue paper SAF forms to every farmer. It has effectively abandoned for the moment a system which cost £158 million to create.
Most industry commentators in Scotland believe following suit would be a disaster. The Scottish Government has spent £138m on CAP implementation. If it proves to have been wasted, there is little doubt that government would seek to redeem the situation with farmers ultimately paying the price.
* Experience on the ground seems mixed.
Ian Hope at CKD Galbraith’s Perth office said: “I have not competed a full SAF yet but I have been filling in field data sheets and it seems to be working OK.
“I would rather be working online than on paper. If we have to go back to paper, as they have in England, it will just increase the scope for errors because there would be no automatic checks.
“We have spent the last two months re-registering businesses, and I would hate to think of that effort being wasted.
“Now that we are online we have to keep the momentum going.”
Meanwhile, Mark Mitchell at Bell Ingram in Perth took a different view.
“I have only completed one SAF but found it a bit of a nightmare. I don’t think the system has been properly thought through, and it is often counter-intuitive.
“The inability to print out data sheets to keep a record is a real disadvantage.
“I am disappointed, because the Scottish Government made such a good job of implementing the last CAP.”