MORAY’S MSP SHOULD be held to account for letting down Farmers in his own constituency and throughout Scotland.
This week the Scottish Government moved to ensure that farmers and crofters who are still waiting for vital EU payments that should have been made in December will receive their cash.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged £200million from government funds that will later be reclaimed from the European Union. The move comes after months of wrangling over the payments which had been delayed by a failed IT system – with Moray MSP and Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead at the centre of the row.
Opposition calls for Mr Lochhead to resign over the issue – or be sacked – have been made, the most recent from Labour’s Sarah Boyack MSP who said the entire issue was “a scandal”.
She said: “Richard Lochhead and his department have known about these problems for a year. They were warned the new system would not work but carried on regardless – they are now in denial about the scale of the problem.
“Farmers all over Scotland are facing financial hardship and there is a knock on effect into the wider rural economy with suppliers and others having to wait for payments while farmers try to arrange extended credit with their banks.
“This is a real scandal, affecting real people and the Minister just wrings his hands and complains that it is all very complicated.”
Now Mr Lochhead’s opponents in the forthcoming Scottish elections in May have welcomed the intervention of the First Minister, with Tory candidate Douglas Ross commenting: “This whole system has been an unmitigated mess and the SNP have to accept the blame when their IT system costing £180m prevents farmers being paid money they expected.
“Ministers have been quick to dismiss their critics and blame others, even the National Farmers Union, but they should have spent more time finding a solution rather than defending the indefensible.
“As local MSP and Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead has let down many of his constituents who are waiting for these vital payments and I hope he will agree to the Scottish Conservatives request to a full inquiry into this fiasco.
“While I welcome the announcement made by the First Minister you have to question why it took the SNP so long to act. This issue has been raised at First Ministers Questions by Ruth Davidson on more than one occasion, the Scottish NFU, politicians and farmers have all been vocal about the problems with the system but the Scottish Government did little more than issue excuses.
“It should never have reached this stage. Farmers have been badly let down and we have to ensure it never happens again. The impact of the failure to pass on these payments will be felt across the industry for some time.”
Labour candidate for the Moray seat at Holyrood, Sean Morton, agreed that the Scottish NFU had every right to protest over the issue as the union prepared to hold a protest rally today.
He said: “As a result of the SNP Government’s failures only around £100million has so far been paid out. That covers less than half of those who should have received it. That’s just not on.
“I know nowadays it seems any criticism of the government is met with the dismissive “SNP BAD” remark from any SNP supporter, but if depriving farmers of money that is rightfully theirs isn’t bad what is?
“Members of the National Farmers Union are absolutely right to be protesting the government on Wednesday because they have been badly let down.
“Richard Lochhead needs to give them answers – what’s more he needs to give them the money they are owed.”