£35m fine will not impact on farmers

The level of disallowance to be imposed on the Scottish Government by the European Commission, following a 2009 audit of the Single Farm Payment Scheme (SPS) has been confirmed as £35 million.

Although the fine relates to the accuracy of the land maps used by farmers as part of their annual support claims, there will be no impact at farm level of this disallowance.

The main issue on farm payments identified by the audit related to the inclusion of ineligible areas not identified at inspection, the accuracy of the information held on Scottish government systems regarding field boundaries and the location and extent of ineligible features. The National Farmers Union Scotland believes the current CAP Reform negotiations offers the opportunity to identify a better mapping system and has opened discussions with Brussels.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said: “No fine is ever good news but a key point for farmers to keep in mind is that this announcement will have no impact on their payments and is pitched at a national level.

“This episode does underline the necessity of the action we took in 2010, alerting members to the importance of proactively re-mapping their land area when submitting support claim forms to ensure that only eligible areas were included.

“The improvements that applicants undertook at that time and on subsequent claim forms will have helped to ease the problems being encountered when farms are subject to official inspections. The irony and unintentional consequence is that several of those who have been responsible and made changes to their maps have since found themselves subject to delays when receiving payments.

“The move from historic support to an area-based system made it a necessity for mapping to be robust but the process of change at that time could have been managed better by the EU and member states.

“While there is a need to be accountable for public funds, imposing fines on farms or at member state level remains a blunt tool.

“We would hope that lessons have been learned by the Commission. In the future, when any changes to systems are required, provisions should be put in place for a proper transition period to allow updating of systems and inspection standards to evolve.

“The planned changes to support schemes and CAP reform provides an opportunity to correct this issue and to ensure that a pragmatic and realistic level of accuracy on mapping and land eligibility is a feature of any future support claim forms.

“NFU Scotland has had a positive response from the European Commission to our suggestion that ineligible features such as bracken, gorse and scree could be factored into a whole farm’s scheme claim on a proportionate basis in the future.

“That may be more acceptable for farmers than the current requirement of having them map out each ineligible area individually.”