THE HEAT HAS been turned up over a damming report issued this week by Audit Scotland over the SNP Government failure to deliver EU payments to farmers.
With the report finding that the programme overseen by Richard Lochhead MSP in his time as a cabinet secretary in the last Parliament continued to have “serious cost and operational issues”, the entire issue is being described as an ongoing fiasco by opposition MSP’s.
These include new Highlands and Islands MSP Douglas Ross, who has comes from a Moray farming background. Mr Ross “This whole fiasco gets worse and worse and it’s our local farmers who suffer from the delays as they still face a battle to get money they are entitled to.
“The whole rural economy is stifled by the inability of the SNP Government to pass on money to farmers. Many in Moray have only received a fraction of their payments or nothing at all.
“This system was designed to process Common Agricultural Policy payments of £688m a year, but has failed and this will have a knock-on effect for the delivery of other payments our farmers are expecting.
“The business they do with local firms and contractors have either been delayed or cancelled or overdrafts and bank loans are needed to pay for them. This all has a huge detrimental effect for an industry that has had more than enough difficulties this year.
“What this report makes clear is that there may be more bad news to come. The IT programme which was to deliver these payments was scheduled to cost £102m, now has a final budget of £178m with a reduced scope. If this system can’t deliver the payments by the EU deadline of the 30th June, Scottish taxpayers will have to pay a fine of up to £125m.”
Mr Ross, who was yesterday given a leading role in the shadow cabinet as the Tory’s spokesman on Justice, added that the Audit Scotland report “must not be ignored” by the SNP.
He said: “This failure lies squarely at their door. They didn’t learn from the problems experienced elsewhere in the UK who moved to this system before us. Farmers in Moray and across Scotland will take little comfort from the findings of this report but it is vital that lessons are learned.
“The priority must be to get these payments out as quickly as possible, no matter what it takes. SNP ministers and the Government should pull out all the stops to achieve this. When that is done we need to have a full investigation to ensure this sorry saga is never repeated.”
Last night Mr Lochhead, who earlier this week resigned as a cabinet secretary, said: “Every effort is being made to ensure the IT system is made fit for purpose.
“Due to the cash flow issues facing many farmers, the Government brought forward national loans and I know that from speaking to many Moray farmers this has been of assistance to them.”