Scotland politics

EU farm payments deadline extended to October

Farm field
Image caption Payments to farmers in Scotland have been hampered by delays

The deadline for paying European subsidies to farmers is to be extended from 30 June to 15 October, a senior EU official has confirmed.

Problems with a new Scottish government computer system have caused delays to many Scottish farmers due the money.

The Scottish government had been facing fines of between £40m and £125m if it did not meet the June deadline.

But the EU's commissioner for agriculture, Phil Hogan, announced the new date.

The move followed a meeting between the commissioner and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh last month.

Mr Hogan stressed that this was "an exceptional measure" which reflected the difficulties some member states and devolved regions had experienced with the first year of payments under the new CAP.

He emphasised that the move should not be used as an "excuse" to slow down the rate of payments.

Any deadline shift must not be used as an excuse by the Scottish government in delaying the payment of outstanding 2015 monies any further."

NFU Scotland's Scott Walker

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said the extended deadline would not detract from efforts to make as many payments as possible by the original June cut-off date.

He added: "This flexibility is welcome but it will not detract from my determination to make full payments to as many Scottish farmers as possible by 30 June. This remains my absolute priority.

"Today's announcement by the EU Commission reflects the challenges being faced by countries across Europe in implementing this CAP reform and making payments, and reduces the potential for financial penalties being imposed on administrations."

'Let off the hook'

NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said: "The shift in the European deadline for making payments is good news for the Scottish taxpayer, as it will significantly lessen the risk of a hefty fine.

"The recent Audit Scotland report estimated that failure to deliver payments by the end of June could have cost the Scottish government between £40m and £125m.

"However, any deadline shift must not be used as an excuse by the Scottish government in delaying the payment of outstanding 2015 monies any further or hold back progress with the 2016 scheme."

This flexibility is welcome but it will not detract from my determination to make full payments to as many Scottish farmers as possible by 30 June

Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Secretary

Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokesman Peter Chapman said the Scottish government had been "let off the hook by this decision".

He added: "This should by no means absolve the SNP, or indeed the former rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead, from blame for this debacle.

"Furthermore, this cannot be used as an excuse for any further delays in the distribution of CAP payments to farmers and crofters.

"The government must continue to work urgently to ensure that all payments are issued in full as soon as possible."

'Get funds into bank accounts'

Scottish Labour said that given the "complete mess" the SNP had made of CAP payments, the extended date was a "welcome decision".

The party's rural economy spokeswoman, Rhoda Grant, said: "I will be writing to SNP minister Fergus Ewing seeking confirmation that the government's first priority remains ensuring that farmers and crofters receive their money by the end of June as previously stated."

The Scottish Greens said despite the delay to financial sanctions, the 30 June delivery deadline remained and "must be made to get the rural economy back on track again".

The Scottish Liberal Democrats believed there still required an urgency to get money into the bank accounts of farmers.

The party's Mike Rumbles said: "SNP incompetence has blown a hole in the ability of farmers to plan their finances effectively.

"We need to ensure that funds get out of the door and into bank accounts before the end of June."

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