The Scottish Beef Association has called for an inquiry into the government’s failure to meet its own CAP payments timetable.
The Scottish government’s target was for the majority (at least 50%) of payments to be completed by the end of January.
But government figures showed that 24% of Scottish farmers and crofters had received their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) by the end of last month.
Up to 3 February, more than 6,000 direct payments – which is almost 35% of the 18,000 or so eligible claims – had been paid to Scottish farmers and crofters.
The SBA said Scottish government had failed to provide farmers with firm dates of expected payments before the end of the year.
And it now looks “increasingly unlikely” that the government will meet its own deadline to make the promised final payments by the end of April.
SBA chairman Scott Henderson (pictured above) said the government’s £180m CAP computer program, developed by 22 civil servants, was proving to be an “utter failure”.
Mr Henderson said a list of failings showed the system was “not fit for purpose”, with many farmers having received confirmation of correct payments, only to be later flagged as validation errors created by computer inaccuracies.
In addition, it is understood it is costing Scottish government in excess of £10,000 to process each individual BPS claim.
The SBA called on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee to launch an investigation into the Scottish CAP payments system, which it said had led to an “unmitigated financial disaster for beef producers”.
“With the high cost to the farming community coupled with the exceptionally poor performance of the Scottish government’s computer system it is more and more evident that a great number of eligible beef producers are likely to face extreme financial hardship,” said Mr Henderson.
“Instead of making the initial payment by the end of March, it is envisaged that this could now be delayed – most likely to the end of May or beyond.
“This raises more concerns with the consequential delay in payment of the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS), together with the Calf Scheme Money.”
Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said: “My officials have been working relentlessly for many, many months to get the new system up and running to accept applications and begin making payments.
“Scotland is well ahead of where other parts of the UK were at a similar stage in moving to area-based payments during the last CAP reform – and that was without having to implement greening and a new rural development programme at the same time.
“We are doing everything in our power – including deploying additional staff to area offices and processing applications seven days a week – to pay as many first instalments as we can by the end of March and the balance of payments as soon as possible after that.”