Scotland politics

Fine 'unlikely' over Scots farm subsidy delays

dairy farm Image copyright Getty Images

The Scottish government is unlikely to be fined over late payment of farm subsidies, BBC Scotland understands.

The government has until midnight to deliver the latest round of Common Agricultural Policy payments to farms.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has said 90% of payments should be made by then, with an application made for an extension to the deadline.

However BBC Scotland understands any fine or extension may be waived if the 90% target is met.

Under European Commission rules, a fine could be imposed if 95.24% of payments are not made by the midnight deadline, with Mr Ewing forecasting that the government would "fall short by a few percentage points".

As of midnight on Thursday, 87.3% of payments had been made. This totals £331m of payouts to 15,991 farmers and crofters.

The government has accelerated payments in recent weeks amid political pressure from opposition parties, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to farmers for "failures" with the system.

A extension was granted in 2016, after problems arose with a new £178m IT system for delivering the payments.

Audit Scotland has estimated that fines for missing the deadlines could run to £60m, and have warned there are still "significant costs and risks for the Scottish government" over the IT problems.

Image caption Fergus Ewing told the rural economy committee that 90% of payments were projected to be made by Friday

Mr Ewing said the government was doing "all we can" to make "as many payments as possible" by the end of the day.

He said: "I expect the vast majority of farmers and crofters will receive all their basic and greening payments by the end of today.

"Although it is not possible at this stage to guarantee precisely the level of payments that will be made, the latest figures are showing that we have made progress.

"We recognise that while we are making progress, we still need to do better.

"Our priority remains completing payments for farmers and crofters as quickly as possible in the coming weeks and officials are working incredibly hard to do just that - and will continue to do so beyond today to make as many outstanding payments as quickly as possible."

The latest deadline pressure has sparked a political row at Holyrood, with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson accusing Mr Ewing and Ms Sturgeon of "not being straight" with MSPs and farmers.

She said they had fallen "far below" standards set out in the ministerial code for "accurate and truthful information".

Ms Sturgeon said "rapid daily progress" was being made in getting payments through, and insisted she and her ministers had been clear with parliament. Mr Ewing described criticism as "fanciful".

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