Nicola Sturgeon to face Scottish farming leaders – BBC News

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Media captionRuth Davidson asked Nicola Sturgeon whether the Scottish government will ask for an extension to the farm payments deadline

Nicola Sturgeon is to address farming leaders the day after it emerged the Scottish government has again asked for an extension to the deadline for making EU subsidy payments.

The European Commission has confirmed the government wants next week’s deadline extended until 15 October.

Ms Sturgeon had earlier refused to say whether an extension was being sought.

It would be the second year in a row the government has failed to meet the Common Agricultural Policy deadline.

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick has said the Scottish government should have been more straightforward in its communication with farmers.

He said: “We’ve asked for Scottish Government to have a clear and open dialogue with the industry on payments.

“Farmers and crofters should have been the first to know that once again there is to be a delay in payments. This does nothing to restore trust or build confidence.”

Ms Sturgeon is due to speak to agriculture industry figures at the Royal Highland Show in Ingliston later, where she will mark the first anniversary of the Brexit vote by calling for the status of EU nationals to be guaranteed.

Face questions

The first minister will argue EU workers are important to virtually all parts of the modern farming industry, and will repeat her call for the UK government to guarantee their status after Brexit.

But, she is likely to face questions over her government’s handling of the CAP payments, with 5,000 farmers out of a total of about 18,000 said to have still not received their money with just a week to go until the deadline.

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Image caption Highland cow Eleanor, from Angus, this year’s breed champion in the Highland Cattle section

The deadline was also extended to October last year after problems with the Scottish government’s new 178m IT system caused delays to payments that left many farmers facing a cash flow crisis.

The government had been facing fines of between 40m and 125m for failing to meet last year’s deadline, before the extension was agreed.

At the time, the extension was described as 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.

What are the CAP payments?

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Reforms to the CAP system saw the Single Farm Payment Scheme replaced by the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) in 2015.

The BPS is the main EU subsidy available to farmers in Scotland, with the money being allocated by the Scottish government.

The payments are designed to act as a safety net for farmers and crofters by supplementing their main business income.

A total of 19,674 different Scottish rural businesses received a total of about 650m in CAP payments last year.

European Commission sources said on Thursday that the latest request for an extension was still being considered, with the Scottish government being urged to speed up payments ahead of the current deadline on 30 June.

Ms Sturgeon had earlier been pushed on the issue at first minister’s questions by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who asked for a “yes or no answer” on whether the government had asked Brussels for more time to make the payments.

The first minister said “good progress has been made on making payments” despite a “small number of known defects that have been holding up some claims”.

‘Tried to duck it’

She added: “We are working to meet that deadline and we will continue to do so each and every day until that deadline.”

Ms Davidson said Ms Sturgeon’s refusal to directly answer her question suggested the answer was “yes” – something that was confirmed a short time later by the commission.

The Tory leader subsequently attacked the first minister and Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, saying they had “promised they would fix their broken farm payments system after last year’s debacle”.

She said: “Instead, we now learn that the SNP has once again failed to deliver on time for Scotland’s rural economy – risking another huge fine and further delays for hard-pressed farmers and crofters.

“Instead of confronting this issue when I raised it with her today, the first minister tried to duck it.

“This week, the SNP government has been lambasted for its lack of transparency. This sorry episode only confirms that the culture of secrecy and denial in the SNP government goes right to the top.”

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