14 September 2001

Aid payment protection?

FARMERS in Scotlands Less Favoured Areas could escape planned cuts of £2.1m to their support payments next year if rural development minister Ross Finnie succeeds in negotiations with the EU Commission.

Mr Finnie wants the commission to agree that the safety net, introduced this year to cushion cattle and sheep farmers from dramatic losses in the transition from headage to area-based payments, should be maintained at 90% for 2002. It was due to be cut to 80% next year and 50% in 2003.

But Mr Finnie is determined to press for the 90% to be retained next year because of the financial impact of foot-and-mouth disease on Scotlands producers.

"I will argue very hard for the higher level. Although success cannot be guaranteed, I am prepared to increase the budget to fund it."

But NFU Scotland leader Jim Walker warned nothing other than success would be acceptable. "I hope Mr Finnie has done the groundwork with the commission before he goes raising expectations like this. There is no way we will accept him returning in a month or two saying the commission wont play. We are not asking; we expect the 90% to be delivered."

If the 90% safety net is retained, the published budget of £58m for the scheme next year will be £2.1m adrift. Mr Finnie has promised the Scottish Executive will cover the shortfall. &#42