Scotland’s rural economy is being “starved” of £500m of funding because of SNP incompetence, the Scottish Conservatives’ leader said.
Farmers across the country have faced crippling delays over the payment of EU subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy.
Ruth Davidson told First Minister’s Questions that farmers were struggling as they waited for payments that were supposed to be made in December.
She quoted Jim Walker, the former head of the NFU Scotland, who is to urge his former employers to call for the resignation of the cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead and his civil service director over the issue.
Ms Davidson said: “Our rural economy is currently being starved of half a billion pounds of funding because this SNP Government could not organise a payment system in time – a system which has already run £75m over budget and still doesn’t work. What is it going to take for this FM to get a grip?”
Ms Sturgeon said the proportion of the payments made is now approaching 50%.
“We are continuing to do everything possible to get instalments out to as many farmers as we can by the end of March and the balance of payments as soon as possible after that,” she said.
She added they are in talks with banks to help farmers with loans and the Government had set up a hardship fund.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale berated the First Minister for failing to condemn her deputy’s downplaying of the impact of council cuts.
During Wednesday’s budget debate at Holyrood, John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, said predicted job losses at local authorities were “utterly exaggerated”.
Ms Dugdale said: “The casual disregard which John Swinney dismissed those who are losing their jobs left many workers sick to their stomach yesterday.”
Ms Sturgeon did not comment on Mr Swinney’s choice of words, but said Labour was guilty of “wild scaremongering”, which is “more about their desperate struggle for survival than it is about anything else”.
She added Ms Dugdale listed a series of proposed cuts to Perth and Kinross Council at FMQs earlier this month, which were never materialised.
Patrick Harvie, joint leader of the Scottish Greens, called Donald Trump an “arrogant and racist bully” as he criticised the Government for standing by as publically-owned Prestwick Airport pursued an alliance with the Trump Organization. Ms Sturgeon denied that was happening.