5 October 2016

Statement: Supporting Farming and Food Production

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Given the importance of primary and processed food production in my constituency, I welcome the announcements that the cabinet secretary has made about supporting the food industry. What steps can he take—or can he advise what steps the UK Government is contemplating—to protect those industries’ access to labour from other parts of the EU on which they are critically dependent?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): That is an extremely serious matter. I have made many visits to farms and great co-ops such as Aberdeen Grain Services, Ringlink Scotland or Grampian Growers and we are reliant—whether for raspberry picking, tattie picking or a range of jobs in the rural community—on people who come from the EU to work here, who choose to do so, who are welcome here, and who, in many cases, are migrant workers.

As Stewart Stevenson knows from his constituency, in respect of fish processing, we are utterly reliant on the good will of people who are welcome in this country. The announcements emerging from the Conservative conference are of the most right-wing and reactionary variety that I have heard in 17 years in politics. They are quite shocking and quite disgraceful.

4 October 2016

(S5T-00117) Common Agricultural Policy Loan Scheme

1. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress that it has made in delivering the national common agricultural policy loan scheme. (S5T-00117)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): I announced the national basic payment support scheme for 2016 to Parliament on 13 September, and delivery has proceeded on the timescale that was set out in that announcement.

Letters inviting farmers and crofters to apply for loans were issued dated 27 September, and everyone who is eligible to apply for a loan should receive their letter this week.

I regret that after letters were sent, manual checking of a sample of the calculations uncovered an undervaluation of entitlement that affected some potential applicants. Clearly, that is regrettable and I appreciate fully that it will have caused confusion for people receiving letters. Revised loan letters will be issued to the affected farmers and crofters this week. However, it is important to note that no farmer or crofter who is entitled to receive a loan will be worse off as a result of that undervaluation. Indeed, every single farmer or crofter who is affected will be entitled to receive more than they were originally notified of.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the cabinet secretary for his explanation and assurance about what are clearly difficult circumstances. Can he advise when all payments can be expected to be made under the scheme after the closure of applications in about two weeks?

Fergus Ewing: I can advise that our aim was that the bulk of the payments should be made in the first fortnight of November, and that is still our intention. I would not use the term “closure” because we have asked farmers to return the form by 12 October, and those who are affected by the adjustment following the undervaluation will be given a further week to do that. However, there is no cut-off period; no one is excluded if they do not meet the deadlines. In other words, those who miss the deadlines will still receive a loan payment but might not receive it at the same time as everyone whose forms are returned timeously.

Stewart Stevenson
: I am sure that the flexibility that the Government is showing will be very welcome. The cabinet secretary said in a statement to Parliament that a small number of businesses will not qualify for a loan. How many might be involved, why might they not receive loans and what help might be forthcoming for them?

Fergus Ewing: A relatively small minority of businesses will not receive loan offers at this stage because of the complexity of their cases. There is a variety of cases in that category, and we are absolutely determined to work through all of them. As the validity of each case is resolved and where eligibility is established, loan offers will be issued case by case.

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