Union lobbies MPs on CAP reform

The NFU Scotland lobbied MPs at Westminster this week in support of a debate to fight for a better deal for Scottish farmers following the CAP budget allocation earlier this month.

The debate, led by Eilidh Whiteford MP, received cross-party support with interjections focused on convergence payments to Scottish farmers through CAP.

Dr Whiteford spoke about farmers’ disbelief that the money allocated by the EU was split four ways in the UK and asked Farming Minister George Eustice to listen to farmers and stakeholders to have convergence payment distributed as directed by the EU – for the benefit of Scotland’s farmers.

Mr Eustice agreed to meet NFUS leaders. The union said it will be pursuing this as a matter of urgency.

Following Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s disappointing announcement on CAP, pressure has applied by the NFUS to get the best deal possible for Scotland’s farmers.

The union says it is committed to ensuring tight budgets are used to exclusively support active farmers when the basis for payment moves from a historic to an area-based scheme, starting in 2015. That debate will focus on the scale of payments, the number of regions to be adopted and the potential use of coupling to protect vulnerable livestock sectors.

Under new CAP arrangements starting in 2015, Scottish farmers are likely to receive support levels per hectare that are below those in the rest of the UK and the majority of Europe. However, Europe has mapped out a convergence timetable that asks member states to bring all payments closer to a target of €196 per hectare (ha) by 2019. In Scotland, that figure is currently around €130 per ha.

As part of the CAP deal, the UK received additional money to deliver convergence. The NFUS says it believes the recent CAP budget allocation announcement by Mr Paterson presented an opportunity to start that process. Instead, the convergence uplift received by the UK was shared between the regions on a historic basis, leaving Scotland’s share at 16 percent. The remaining 84 percent will go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland where average payment rates per hectare are already €265, €247 and €339 respectively.

NFUS vice-presidents Allan Bowie and Rob Livesey met MPs following the debate, with questions raised to Mr Eustice about why Scotland is losing out on this money when it is the reason that the UK received the extra cash.

Mr Livesey and Mr Bowie said: “Dr Whiteford put forward an extremely strong case for farmers in Scotland and was robustly supported by other MPs engaged in the debate from both Labour and the Lib Dems, some of whom we had follow-up meetings with.

“There is a clear-cut cross-party agreement that Scotland is being dealt a poor deal in this arrangement. One of the positive messages to come from the debate is a recognition from Mr Eustice that there is an issue, and he is well aware of our concerns. We intend to pursue a meeting with him as soon as possible.

“We look forward to a meeting with the minister as soon as possible to try to tie down some terms of reference for the review. It has now been suggested that the review will take place in 2016 and this is a step in the right direction.

“This must be a robust review with agreed terms of reference carried out by an independent expert group. Clearly, funds must move as part of a transition to fair budgets in 2017.

“We have made it clear to the minister that this debate is not going to go away and we will fight until we have the best deal possible for Scottish farmers.”