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13 September 2016

Statement: Common Agricultural Policy Payments

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): It is a cause of some embarrassment to me as a systems engineer that a computer development problem is at the heart of the problem. It is clear that farmers have experienced pain; the Government has experienced pain to its budget, too. Will the minister ensure that the contractor also shares some of the pain of fixing the IT problem?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): I assure Mr Stevenson that, in my meetings with the contractors and the project team in Saughton house, we have had full and frank discussion of all the issues resulting in, as I reported to Parliament earlier in the year, a substantial saving on the contract, a driving down of costs and performance improvements. Therefore, the contractors have responded to our requests and, indeed, to our requirements to secure better value for money.

I know that Mr Stevenson has an on-going interest in IT projects. He will have copious knowledge about all the matters from his previous experience of implementing them in practice, so perhaps it is a shame that we did not have his input into the project some five years ago. I hope that he will be pleased to hear that a great deal of work has been done to address precisely the issues that he—correctly—raises.

30 June 2016

(S5O-00083) Dairy Production (North East Scotland)

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure the sustainable future of dairy production in North East Scotland. (S5O-00083)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): Although dairy farming is centred mainly in the south-west of Scotland, it also occupies an important place in the economy of the north-east. As the member will know, the industry faces a number of market-driven pressures, which we have been seeking to address with stakeholders. Dairy farming in the north-east of Scotland, as in other parts of the country, can be maintained only if our excellent producers receive a fair return for their efforts.

Although it will ultimately be down to the market to deliver that, the Scottish Government is on the front foot, with a range of initiatives that are aimed at boosting resilience in these challenging times, including the creation of the Scottish dairy growth board and support for the online Scottish dairy hub. We will also be involved in an industry-led working group that will consider what support can be given in the short to medium term.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the Scottish Government encourage the actions of the National Farmers Union Scotland, Opportunity North East and Aberdeenshire Council to commission a study into alternative dairy processing options in the north-east? If so, does the Government consider that that local initiative can be a vital component of ensuring support for the dairy industry in the area that I represent?

Fergus Ewing: Yes, I very much agree with that. I have had the pleasure of meeting the NFU on several occasions since I was appointed, most recently yesterday. I am conscious of Opportunity North East and Sir Ian Wood’s extremely generous gesture of support and his interest in promoting innovation in farming. As Stewart Stevenson well knows, there is of course already a huge amount of innovation in farming, especially in the dairy sector and particularly in diversification into higher-profit-margin products in recent years by a variety of companies. I am determined to work with members of all parties and the industry to address the serious challenges that currently face the dairy sector in Scotland.

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