Scottish farming leaders say something “needs to give” as farmers and agents are spending days battling with the country’s new multi-million-pound rural payments computer system.
Unscheduled breaks for maintenance and unexpected complexity in completing applications have frustrated farmers and agents and led to appeals for an extension to the deadline for completing Single Application Forms (SAF).
After two days of complaints from members, NFU Scotland (NFUS) president Allan Bowie said: “Farm advisers are finding the system is not as easy to use as has been the case in the past and for farmers themselves, some of the functionality you would expect of such a system simply isn’t there yet.”
“Out of all our 300-plus clients, my office has been able to complete only one application so far.”
Gerald Banks, NFUS
The union’s Environment and Land Use Committee chairman, Gerald Banks, a land agent with more than 300 clients added: “My office has had someone registering clients full-time since December, yet we are unable to access their data because of technical issues that are not our fault.
“We now have to go back into each registration and tick new boxes. Out of all our 300-plus clients, my office has been able to complete only one application so far.”
Mr Banks went on to condemn the Scottish government’s last-minute online training session with more than 130 advisers and agents as “a farce”.
“It happened late in the afternoon before officials knocked off at 5pm and the example they gave us to look at involved no cropping and no additional schemes such as new entrants or rural priorities,” he said. “It was ended abruptly at 5pm. They clearly had buses to catch. Everyone has belittled their performance.”
Scotland’s chief agricultural officer David Barnes confirmed that the online system would be unavailable on occasion for planned maintenance and other updates, but added that the government was seeking to minimise disruption as much as possible.
“We are encouraging as many people as possible to apply for their SAF online. However, we will still accept paper applications from those who choose to apply that way, and we are sending those customers who used a paper SAF last year their pre-populated form as well as hard copies of our guidance on greening, cross-compliance and the Basic Payment Scheme,” he said.
“In order for the Scottish government to process payments, all claimants – regardless of whether they complete their SAF online or on paper – need to register for the Rural Payments and Services system and make sure we have the correct bank account details.”
Just over half of the 22,000 farmers, crofters and other eligible businesses in Scotland have now registered with Rural Services and Payments.