25 February 2000

Fear over subsidy re-jig

SCOTTISH farmers are deeply suspicious about the governments intention of cutting farmers direct payments and re-directing the money to rural development projects. But landowners and conservation groups have welcomed the proposal to "modulate" subsidies.

Urgent problems facing the industry must be tackled before any "tax" on direct payments was considered, said Jim Walker, Scottish NFU president. Submitting the unions response to a Scottish consultation on modulation, he added: "The apparent offer of "jam tomorrow" can be no comfort to the thousands of farming families who are struggling to see a way forward today."

Scottish landowners, however, said they recognised and applauded the efforts of Scottish farm minister Mr Finnie to reshape and broaden rural policy in Scotland. Michael Gibson, Scottish Landowners Federation spokesman, said: "This is not the removal of funding for farmers, but support being given in a different way."

Conservation groups also responded positively to the modulation proposal. Stuart Housden, RSPB director for Scotland, said it provided a golden opportunity to boost payments to Scottish farmers and crofters who receive lower agri-environment payments than their counterparts in England and Wales.

A group which represents 38 different organisations even went as far as saying that the proposed modulation rate should actually be increased, bringing it towards the 20% maximum permitted under EU rules. &#42