Less favoured areas U-turn hijacks rural policy debate

© DC ThomsonMr Ewing said government would do all it could to try to reinstate funds in full.
Mr Ewing said government would do all it could to try to reinstate funds in full.

A “screeching U-turn” on cuts to Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) payments hijacked a Holyrood debate on the future of rural policy yesterday.

The debate was overshadowed by news that LFASS payments will reduce by no more than 20% over the next two years.

During his address to parliament, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing confirmed that LFASS funding would remain at at least 80% of current levels, contrary to an announcement on Monday when Mr Ewing said payments would reduce by 20% this year and by 60%, or possibly even 80%, next year.

Mr Ewing said: “LFASS funding for 2019 and 2020 will not fall below 20%. I will work to find options to achieve that.”

He said government would also do all it could to try to reinstate funds in full.

The latest LFASS announcement was described as a “screeching U-turn” by Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron who said any cuts to LFASS would have a “catastrophic impact on Scottish farmers and crofters”.

He added: “The Cabinet Secretary must ensure that those farming on ‘less favourable’ land are properly supported.”

Aside from the LFASS cuts announcement, Mr Ewing said legislation would be introduced in this parliamentary session for a Scottish Agriculture Bill, although the precise timetable for this was not confirmed.

He also pledged to set up a group, at the request of the Liberal Democrats to look at a bespoke policy for farming and food producers, consisting of producers, consumer and environmental organisations.

The Tories repeatedly described Brexit as an opportunity to design a bespoke system for Scottish agriculture, while north-east Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles urged his peers to set aside party politics and work together to devise new rural policy.

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