The Scottish Government says that island crofters and farmers will benefit from the first instalment of convergence funding – addressing an “historic injustice”.
The funding is the first tranche of an £160 million package the UK government has finally returned to Scottish farmers after pocketing EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding intended for Scotland since 2014.
The initial £80 million will be distributed to support active farming, with a focus on those who farm in marginal uplands, hill farms and island areas.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the announcement. “This is money that was hard fought for over many years
“Scottish crofters and farmers have been short-changed by the UK government for years, and the SNP has argued long and hard for that injustice to be addressed.
“Given that this funding was awarded because of Scotland's low CAP support payment rate per hectare, it is absolutely right that it is now being directed towards those in greatest need: crofters and farmers in island areas, marginal uplands and hill farmers.
“With future arrangements for agriculture still unclear amidst the turmoil around Brexit, it is vital that the agriculture sector in the Western Isles benefits from the EU support to which it is entitled, while it still can.
“We now need real commitments over future funding, and an end to the attempted power grab over farming powers that should rightfully be at the Scottish Parliament.”
And the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has also welcomed the Scottish Government announcement.
“Following the long campaign to get the convergence uplift allocated to Scotland, as it should have been,” said SCF chair, Yvonne White, “it is gratifying to see that Scottish Government has listened to SCF’s arguments for a fair and principled distribution of the funding within Scotland.
“Convergence is about raising the income of the lowest paid producers towards the EU average. In Scotland these producers are crofters and hill farmers, many of whom are barely surviving – not helped by the very low payments for rough grazing. The bulk of the money should therefore rightfully go to regions 2 and 3.
“There has been heated discussion in the media on how the money should be divided up; lobbying by the National Farmers’ Union to get the money aimed at the better-off section of their membership and counter arguments put up by SCF, representing crofters’ interests, to get a fair distribution that reflects the spirit and original premise of convergence.
“The NFUS lobby has been rejected wholeheartedly, even by many farming stalwarts, and it is good to see Scottish Government making an announcement to end the dispute by doing the right thing. The fact that the initial payments will be made in this financial year is a big plus,” Ms White added, “and Scottish Government are to be commended for treating this with urgency.”
“The Cabinet Secretary’s mention of his commitment to maintain support for farmers and crofters in the Less Favoured Area is appreciated” Ms White continued, “but we have to reiterate that the convergence uplift is not a means of making up for the LFASS reduction caused by Scottish Government failing to join the new European scheme for constrained areas. Taking the money owed to poorly paid producers to make up a budget deficit of Scottish Government’s own making would be wrong.”
Ms White concluded, “The details of the actual mechanisms by which the payments will be distributed to where they belong in our crofting, marginal uplands, hill farms and island areas are yet to be announced and we await these with interest”.