19 November 1999

Scots threaten legal move over cash shortfall

THE Scottish NFU is threatening to take legal action against the government over a £20m shortfall in a farm business improvement scheme for the Highlands and Islands.

Just before he appeared before the Scottish Parliaments rural affairs committee on Tuesday, farm minister, Ross Finnie, announced an extra £1m funding for the Agricultural Business Improvement Scheme, bringing the total budget to £2.2m.

But, with almost 4000 farmers and crofters having applied to the scheme in the past six months, the total claimed for the capital improvement grants now stands at about £22m.

Jim Walker, SNFU president, dismissed the extra £1m as "just a drop in the ocean", and said the union would either seek a judicial review or refer the case to the Parliamentary Commissioner.

The unions fury stems from a promise earlier this year from the then farm minister Lord Sewel that "sufficient resources will remain applied to the ABIS to ensure all outstanding commitments can be met, as well as accommodating any up-surge in applications".

Mr Walker said: "We feel that commitment gave members a legitimate expectation that they would be able to proceed with their applications unhindered by any restrictions on approval. &#42