European farm Commissioner Phil Hogan has extended the farm support payments deadline to mid October, giving the Scottish Government more than three extra months to complete the job.
The unprecedented flexibility by the Commission has removed the risk of hefty fines of up to £125 million as it is unlikely the Scottish Government’s labouring IT system will be capable of paying out all Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support to farmers by the original June 30 deadline.
However in his statement, which has been expected for two weeks, the Commissioner was adamant that the derogation shouldn’t be used as an excuse to slow down the rate of payments to farmers and urged member states to prioritise outstanding funds to the industry and still aim to complete the work by June 30.
Mr Hogan told The Courier in May that he was keen to help states which were struggling, but it is understood that persuading Europe’s auditors to agree to the flexibility took much longer than anticipated. He said yesterday that the measure went as far as the Commission could go.
Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, welcomed the flexibility but said it would not detract from his determination to make full payments to as many Scottish farmers as possible by June 30.
“This remains my absolute priority,” he said.
“Today’s announcement by the EU Commission reflects the challenges being faced by countries across Europe in implementing this Cap reform and making payments, and reduces the potential for financial penalties being imposed on administrations.”
The announcement was also welcomed by NFU Scotland (NFUS) which said the extension was good news as it lessened the risk of a hefty fine for Scottish taxpayers. However the union’s chief executive Scott Walker said many millions of pounds remained outstanding and NFUS would continue to press Government to make significant progress before the opening day of the Royal Highland Show on June 23.
He added: “The list of work from the 2015 scheme that remains to be completed is substantial. Not only do we want outstanding support payments delivered to farmers and crofters before the end of June but mapping, regionalisation, fixing entitlement rates, national reserve awards and delivery of the new sheep support scheme have also been delayed and must be completed if the Scottish rural economy is to have a chance of getting back on its feet any time soon.”