This week sees the end of the Scottish Government’s consultation on the next SRDP and Scottish Land & Estates has set out its pragmatic position that although the proposals are not forward-looking and aimed at delivering real rural development, the context of the changes to direct farm support mean that the Scottish Government should be cautious about changing too much in the SRDP at the same time.
Andrew Midgley, Head of Policy said:
“Scottish Land & Estates wants to see the SRDP support rural development in the widest sense so that rural areas can be supported to become dynamic and prosperous places with growing and vibrant rural populations, buoyant local economies and a high quality environment. From this perspective the proposals for the next SRDP are disappointing because the impression from the headline illustrative budget is that it effectively supports the status quo rather than providing the platform for proper forward-looking rural development.
“However, Scottish Land & Estates acknowledges the changes that are about to take place with regard to direct payments and so accepts the need to maintain an element of stability in the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme in the medium term. Scottish Land & Estates believes that it would not be wise to change LFASS at the same time as direct payments because of the potential impact on our farming businesses.
“Consequently, Scottish Land & Estates adopts a pragmatic stance and accepts that the Scottish Government should follow the course it is proposing at present, but review the budgets, especially LFASS, in the light of the impact of the changes in Pillar 1, at the earliest opportunity. LFASS is an extremely blunt tool for supporting rural development.
“It is therefore important that the Scottish Government allows itself sufficient flexibility to move money between budgets in the programme without the need to submit formal programme modifications to the European Commission. Such processes take time and potentially limit the Scottish Government’s flexibility in how the programme is managed.
“It is also critically important that we develop a much better evidence base about our rural areas and how they are changing in order to develop a more targeted rural development policy and programme.
On the Budget, Andrew Midgley said:
“Scottish Land & Estates supported the Scottish Government in its proposal to transfer 9.5% of the pillar 1 national ceiling to the SRDP. We did so because while many of our members would have liked the full 15% transfer, it would have also compounded the impact of the changes in the direct support regime that will be felt by farmers. Scottish Land & Estates took the view that the current uncertainties surrounding direct support and the move to area payments warranted a degree of caution in transferring funds because we do not have a very clear picture of the precise consequences in terms of changes to support levels in different places and for different types of businesses. We did note, however, that the Scottish Government will have the ability to re-visit this decision in 2017, which could represent a useful opportunity to amend the Pillar 2 budget if necessary once the Scottish Government has a much better understanding of the implications of the move to area payments for the farming industry (taking into account the future changes involved in changing LFASS into ANC support).
“80% of the budget is devoted to LFASS, agri-environment measures and forestry. This prioritisation is understandable. Scotland needs to do more to protect and enhance biodiversity and has set woodland creation targets that need support to be reached. Our more remote rural communities, within which farming plays a key role, are also fragile and need support. However, Scottish Land & Estates is somewhat disappointed at what appears to be a lack of vision for the next SRDP. Scottish Land & Estates wants to see the SRDP support rural development in the widest sense so that rural areas can be supported to become dynamic and prosperous places that contribute to the economy, but the impression from the headline illustrative budget is that the next SRDP effectively supports the status quo rather than providing the platform for proper forward-looking rural development.
“While it is important to continue to support LFASS (in order to maintain stability during the period of change in Pillar 1), a small amount of change to the LFASS budget in the short-term would free up funds that could have a significant impact in other parts of the programme, especially small rural businesses.
“Scottish Land & Estates believes that simply maintaining a flat forestry budget is a potentially a missed opportunity. Recent figures suggest that the suggested budget of £36m/yr for forestry is not sufficient to deliver against the Scottish Government’s own targets. It is also very disappointing that the Scottish Government is choosing to stop funding access options.
On the proposed changes to the SRDP processes, Andrew Midgley said:
“The proposed changes to the structure of the application process are welcome. The Scottish Government appears to have listened to feedback on the current programme and is attempting to find ways of improving the process.