Scottish farmers’ long-standing hopes of getting their share of £160million of EU funds appear to have been dashed by Defra and the UK Treasury.
Exclusive access to correspondence between Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing and Defra Secretary Michael Gove reveals new conditions attached to a proposed review of convergence funding rule out any consideration of the way the funds were allocated in the years between 2014 and 2020.
Defra’s proposed new Terms of Reference (ToR), which are believed to have been influenced by the Treasury, also stipulate the review would only look at funding allocations up to 2022, a condition Mr Ewing has told Mr Gove would render the entire process “almost worthless”.
The Common Agricultural Policy funds, at the centre of a dispute between Westminster and Holyrood since 2014, were allocated by the EU to bring Scottish farmers’ per hectare support rate closer to the European average.
However, Defra shared the money among producers across the UK, and Scottish farmers still earn among the lowest support rates in Europe. A review of the convergence allocation has been on the cards for four years and is regarded by stakeholders as critical, not only to try to recoup funds, but to set a baseline for funding Scotland’s agricultural sector in future.
Mr Ewing said the amended ToR came as a shock when he received them two weeks ago, as Mr Gove had agreed in principle to the original terms in February, when he also said any minor changes should be agreed by both parties. He said: “They (the ToR) have been significantly watered down and are unacceptable to the Scottish Government as they stand. The EU was sympathetic to the relatively low support for Scottish farmers, yet the UK Treasury is effectively neutering an inquiry. Next year Scottish farmers and crofters will have the lowest per hectare payments across the EU. It is a stark injustice that it’s something the Treasury seems to be unwilling to even look at. “
In his letter Mr Ewing calls on Mr Gove to reinstate the previously agreed ToR so that the review can finally get under way.
He writes: “The review must revisit the arguments around the current CAP funding allocations in order to identify how unfairly Scottish farmers have been treated.
“It should also provide an opinion about our claim that the Treasury should reimburse Scottish farmers with the £160m convergence money that was wrongly allocated.”