Gate in Scottish Highlands© The Travel Library/REX Shutterstock

The Scottish government should compensate farmers and crofters forced to take out loans to cover delays receiving EU farm subsidies, says Labour.

In a statement, Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the government was on course to begin making farm payments to about 25% of the 22,000 eligible farmers and crofters by the end of December.

But Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack accused Mr Lochhead of an “abdication of his duties” and said any farmers forced to take out loans to cover delays in receiving payments should be compensated.

See also: Scottish farmers face BPS ‘payment lottery run’

Mr Lochhead said about 70% of Scotland’s total Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) value would be paid in the first tranche.

“If we could pay more, we would,” he said. “My officials are working flat out to process claims as quickly as possible as we implement very difficult and complex Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms.”

According to the Scottish government’s payments timetable, the majority of farmers should receive their initial payment by the end of January, with all first instalments expected to be paid by the end of March. The balance of payments is due be settled in April.

But Ms Boyack, who is environment spokeswoman for Scottish Labour, said may farmers still faced an uncertain future over when they would be paid. In the meantime, many would have to take out loans or increase overdrafts to make up the shortfall.

Mr Lochhead described the scale of the payments scheme as “truly staggering”, with around four million payment entitlements to issue, covering 400,000 fields, as well as 21,000 Single Application Forms to process and 1,300 farms to inspect.

“We have also had to deal with four separate CAP audits from EU institutions since September,” he said.

“This has clearly been a major undertaking. We must do everything we can to avoid Scottish farmers facing incorrect payments, or the loss of funding through EU disallowance that their counterparts elsewhere faced in the past.”

He thanked farmers for their patience and urged anyone experiencing difficulties to contact their local area office or the Payments Information Helpline on 0300 300 2222. The EU payment window runs from 1 December to June.