Rural and Environment

Stability, certainty and simplicity in rural support

June 22, 2018 by No Comments | Category Environment, EU, Farming

“No change is not an option.” However unpalatable that may be to some in rural Scotland, that was one of the conclusions of the Agriculture Champions and a premises echoed by the National Council of Rural Advisers (NCRA) recent report. Change is therefore inevitable and we must now decide how radical we wish to be, and importantly, how fast we wish to change.

Scotland didn’t choose to be in this situation. Our departure from the EU and its bewildering set of uncertainties have been thrust upon us. Whilst the UK Government has committed to the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this UK parliamentary term, there is still a lack clarity on crucial matters, notably regarding the repatriation of devolved powers and future funding arrangements.

Let me be clear, ideally I would wish to have these uncertainties removed before consulting on the options for future policy. However, with the clock ticking, I simply cannot wait any longer for the UK Government to provide clarity, particularly as a ‘no deal’ scenario remains a worrying, and to some, a preferred option. I believe our rural businesses and communities deserve a semblance of security and this consultation sets out options to try and achieve this.

I agree with the Agriculture Champions in that there is a need for a transition period of at least five years from the day the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, to provide the space we need to properly develop a Scottish approach. This is in stark contrast to the one year transition period currently being proposed by the UK.

In the short-term, I am proposing that support schemes for active farming, food production, environmental improvements, forestry and rural development fundamentally stay largely the same. However, where schemes and processes can usefully be simplified and streamlined, we should do so, particularly if that frees up resource to test new, innovative approaches and measures.

I am proposing measures that will include introducing a cap on payments, reducing inspections and penalties, and ultimately making the whole system more understandable and flexible for farmers and land users.

During Transition, my intention is that farmers and crofters entitled to CAP Pillar 1 will continue to receive support, subject to the overall financial settlement. I will be seeking further views relating to Pillar 2 funding from 2020-24 in due course and am inviting comment on these schemes.

I am also interested in hearing views on the longer term direction of travel for how we best support the rural economy. Just last week, I launched a civic conversation, which coincides with the activity of the National Council of Rural Advisors, around how best we sustain a vibrant and flourishing rural economy and I am very keen that all ideas and proposals are explored during that process.

Taking on board recommendations from both the NCRA, Agriculture Champions and the recommendations in the CAP Greening Group, I believe that this approach will help farmers and land managers diversify their businesses, develop opportunities to integrate into the wider rural economy, and enhance their role as stewards of our natural environment.

Stability and Simplicity: proposals for rural funding transition period will run until 15th August.

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