Scotland politics

MSPs clash with minister over IT farm system report

Fergus Ewing
Image caption Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing was questioned by members of Holyrood's rural economy committee

MSPs clashed with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing over a "highly-critical" report into the £178m IT system set up for farm payments.

Holyrood's rural economy committee was not provided with the full report because it was still in draft form.

Its convener Edward Mountain said a lack of full disclosure meant questioning Mr Ewing was "limited".

The minister said he would have preferred to have provided a complete report, but could not do so.

Mr Ewing went on to explain that the executive summary, which was shared, contained the main conclusions.

Commercially sensitive

The report, carried out by Fujitsu, looked at the system for making European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments.

Farmers in Scotland have been facing delays in getting their subsidies.

Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles described the report's findings as "devastating" while Conservative member Jamie Greene said it was an "absolutely damning indictment" of the IT system.

The committee was told the report was still in draft form and contained commercially-sensitive information as well as information about vulnerabilities in the system that could leave it open to cyber attack.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Thousands of Scottish farmers receive subsidy payments under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy

Mr Ewing informed the committee that the report found the system's architecture to be "fundamentally sound".

He added: "I accept, of course, there are matters that require to be remediated, of course there are, if there weren't we wouldn't be having the difficulties that we're having.

"But bear in mind that this report was commissioned by us from a firm of independent experts in the industry to ascertain whether or not we did require to think again with an entirely new approach.

"It was entirely independent and their fundamental conclusion is that 'yes, the system is sound but a lot of remediation work is required'."

Mr Ewing insisted he had confidence in IT contractor CGI, which was making "significant progress" on the system.

The cabinet secretary said everyone involved was working "flat out" to meet the government's commitment to complete the processing of 2016 payments by the end of June.

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